Michael Stutes didn’t expect to get cut so early, but then the right-handed relief pitcher’s road back to the Major Leagues has not been an easy one to begin with.
To the 27-year-old’s disappointment, Stutes was one of seven players cut Saturday as part of the Philadelphia Phillies’ first round of cuts to trim their roster down to 51 players, including non-roster invitees. Stutes was optioned to Minor League camp along with right-hander Luis Garcia.
"I didn't expect it to be the first round," he told MLB.com. "The last couple outings weren't what I expected. They weren't what they needed to be. I'm just trying to get my body back to where I need it to be to get people out. It just didn't work out."
After a rapid rise through the Phillies organizational rankings saw him land with the big-league club in 2011, Stutes has spent the past two seasons battling injuries in an attempt to return to his previous form. At the age of 24 in 2011, Stutes appeared in 57 games for the Phillies and posted a 3.63 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 69.2 innings pitched.
Shoulder issues sidelined Stutes after just six games with the Phillies in 2012 and then, last season, he struggled with bicep tendonitis which hindered his performance despite appearing in 36 games between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley.
"They [manager Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure] just said that I needed to work on keeping the ball down, getting ahead of hitters,” he said. “That was the overall theme."
And that’s why more time down with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs could be key for the once-spectacular strikeout pitcher.
The impressive velocity he once showcased has not appeared this spring. Once able to hit 95 miles per hour on his fastball with relative ease, he struggled to stay consistently above 90.
In three Spring Training appearances, he allowed seven runs in three innings. He walked three while failing to register a strikeout.
Stutes has his work cut out for him and, while it may not be ideal, time down with the Triple-A IronPigs will be valuable to his progress. Unlike if he were with the Phillies, he will be able to focus on the areas of concern and get the help needed to improve them. If all goes right, he could find his way back to Philadelphia by midseason with a chance to help stabilize their the team’s bullpen for a second-half playoff push.
Lou Musto covers the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for Examiner.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LouisMusto for all the latest Lehigh Valley IronPigs news.