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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who is this Vance Worley kid, anyway?

Who is this Vance Worley kid, the Philadelphia Phillies' starting pitcher opposite Tim Lincecum tonight?

For one, he's a dirtbag. Well, Dirtbag, which is the unofficial nickname for Long Beach State University's baseball team, the 49ers. For another, he's got a mohawk to rival the Giants' Brian Wilson, and he wears glasses that give him an intellectual look to go along with his linebacker body frame (6-foot-2, 235 pounds).

A third round draft pick of the Phillies in 2008, Worley is a Northern California kid: a 2005 graduate of McClatchy High in Sacramento, named that year by Baseball America as Northern California's top pitching prospect. He was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round that year but opted for Long Beach State.

After making his major league debut with five appearances late last year (1-1, 1.38 ERA), Worley has burst upon the scene this year virtually out of nowhere to post a 6-1 mark and 2.01 ERA.

Worley was up and down earlier this year between AAA LeHigh Valley and Philadelphia, sent down for a third time after a disastrous start in late May against the New York Mets when he gave up 12 hits, eight runs, five earned, in just three innings. At the time, Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said he needed consistent work, and wasn't getting it up in Philadelphia.

Manuel sent him down with the message that he would be back. "We'll see you shortly," Worley recalled Manuel telling him, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "You're a part of this team. You'll be back."

Worley, who turns 24 in September, took it in stride.

"There's things I need to work on anyway," Worley told the Inquirer. "It's been a work in progress. I'm fine with it. I know what I need to do. I'll be back in a start or two."

Three weeks later, he was back, and apparently, he worked out whatever kinks he had. He wound up replacing Roy Oswalt in the rotation. Oswalt went on the disabled list in late June after a disastrous month (1-4, 5.81 ERA).

Worley's been a revelation since then. He's gone 4-0 in six starts with a 0.94 ERA (4 earned runs in 38.1 IP, giving up only 21 hits with 16 walks and 29 strikeouts), defeating the Cubs, Marlins, Mets (twice) and Red Sox.

Worley's name has been raised in trade talks centering around the Houston Astros' Hunter Pence, though Manuel came out yesterday to insist his young starter wasn't going anywhere.

Fans appear to be riding the crest of Worley's success with some trepidation. He's described as not having great stuff with any of his pitches, but has had good command. Here's what one fan wrote this week about him in the Broad Street Journal, a Phillies fan blog:

"None of his pitches are spectacular, but they are all solid and he seems to be willing to throw all of them in any given count. His lack of a top tier pitch made scouts overlook him as a top of the rotation guy. Can he sustain this control? I don’t think so, but it will be fun to find out. I have a feeling Rube may sell high on him. I would trade him for Pence if given the opportunity."
Before his start against the Red Sox, Worley sent someone to get fellow Sacramento Valley (Woodland) ballplayer Dustin Pedroia's autograph on a ball, but the second baseman declined.

"He wouldn't give me one until I met him," Worley told the Associated Press. "Then I threw one up and in on him so I probably won't get it now."

Worley got Pedroia's attention when he threw a high-and-tight fastball in the first inning before striking him out. He went on to win, 2-1, in what the East Coast media was hyping as a preview to the World Series.

“He had great mound presence, and we were all very impressed,” Pedroia said. “It’s really good for a kid that young to have a presence like that on the mound. He’s going to be a good one.”

David Ortiz took an 0-for-4 that night, striking out and flying out twice against the rookie.

“Did that guy just come up or something? Man, because he looked pretty good to me,” Ortiz said of Worley. “He had decent stuff, and it really looks like he’s been around for a long time.

“They’ve got four big starters here, right? Well, he looked like one of them out there tonight. He really looked comfortable. It’s obvious that he’s listening to those big starters over there. It’s rubbing off on him.”

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