Phillippe's false alarm

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Only 383 days ago, Phillippe Aumont struck out Curtis Granderson as a World Baseball Classic crowd of 42,314 at the Rogers Centre -- none wearing corporate suits -- stood and cheered louder than Blue Jays fans.

Yesterday, in front of 42,100 fewer people, Aumont worked three scoreless innings and received handshakes from the double-A Reading pitching coach.

The 6-foot-7 pitching prospect from Gatineau, Que., picked up the win against New Hampshire on Mike Schmidt Field at the Philadelphia Phillies spring complex yesterday.

"His delivery is cleaner than when I saw him on TV in the WBC," said a Jays minor-league pitching coach.

FIRST BULLPEN

Drafted 11th overall in 2007 and given a $1.9-million US signing bonus by the Seattle Mariners, there was a day in mid-December when Aumont thought he was headed to the Jays.

"My phone rings and a guy tells me Roy Halladay is going to the Phillies, Cliff Lee to the Mariners and I'm going to the Jays," Aumont said yesterday. "My friend asked what I thought. I didn't know what he was talking about.

"He told me to check a website. It was there. I was looking forward to it ... four hours from my home and friends, playing 81 games in my country. But coming to the Phillies has been good. They're a No. 1 team and it's an honour to be traded for Lee."

In the Phils system, Aumont will be a starter again with a new delivery.

He threw his first bullpen session for pitching coach Rich Dubee at the major-league camp at Bright House Field last month. The next morning, he was called into the office by assistant general manager Benny Looper and Pat Gillick, senior adviser to GM Ruben Amaro. On the split-screen video was Aumont pitching for the Academie Baseball Canada before the draft and the session from the day before.

Videos showed a low three-quarters arm action with plenty of two-seam fastballs before the draft and, after it, Aumont coming over the top with four-seamers.

"The Mariners didn't change me," Aumont said. "I struggled to throw strikes. My arm got higher."

The M's made the change and converted him to a reliever. And, while Aumont said the move was his, some Phillies people said the youngster was taking the blame unnecessarily.

Aumont needed 34 pitches -- 26 strikes -- to mow down the Jays' New Hampshire lineup with a 93- to 95-m.p.h. fastball. He struck out Brad McElroy of London, Ont., Welinto Ramirez, Jonathan Del Campo and Aaron Loup, who doubled earlier off Brad Lidge.

He had four grounders, one by Mississauga's Chris Emanuele, and a fly ball. Nine up. Nine down.

On the other diamond, Scott Mathieson of Langley, B.C., recorded the final out, striking out Adam Loewen of Surrey, B.C.

A year ago, Canada trailed Team USA 6-4 at the World Baseball Classic. Aumont allowed a double to Dustin Pedroia, the defending American League MVP, an infield single to Jimmy Rollins, a former National League MVP, and walked Chipper Jones, but got David Wright a line out, struck out Kevin Youkilis and punched out Granderson.

Prior to that, Aumont allowed five runs (two hits, including a homer and three walks) in two-thirds of an inning in a 13-6 win over Florida State and pitched 22/3 scoreless (two hits, two walks) in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Earlier, he welcomed the Gatineau team run by ex-coach Stephane Petronzio, a program Aumont supports and today sits in the dugout with former ABC coaches Joel Landry and Sylvain Saindon and ex-teammate Medhi Djebbar against Phillies minor leaguers.

In Quebec, Aumont's figure is as large as Russell Martin's.

"He's getting better each time out," Dubee said of Aumont. "We're getting back to where he was as a free agent. He's throwing more strikes and has looked very confident."

Not as confident as he did a year ago against the U.S., but another step in the right direction.

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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