Rick Ankiel made it look so easy.
The second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals out of a Florida high school in 1997, Ankiel was a member of the Cardinals pitching rotation in 2000 as a 20-year-old rookie, winning 11 games and compiling a 3.50 ERA in 31 starts. But within four years his major league pitching career was over, brought on by a sudden and unexplained loss of control that began with two postseason appearances with the Cardinals his rookie year.
In March of 2005, however, Ankiel announced he would attempt a comeback as an outfielder. By late in the 2007 season, after hitting 53 minor-league homers in two seasons (he sat out 2006 with an injury), Ankiel was back in the Cardinals lineup, hitting 11 home runs that season and 47 overall for the Cardinals the next few seasons before signing with Kansas City this past winter as a free agent.
From all public accounts, IronPigs left-hander Joe Savery and the Phillies aren't ready for the team's struggling 2007 first-round pick to follow the same path. However, his slow progress has Savery, an All-American as both a pitcher and a hitter at Rice, wondering if perhaps an Ankiel-like transformation is in his future.
"I don't think they plan on waiting four or five years," Savery, who is 1-11 with a 4.85 ERA this year, said of the Phillies' patience with him. "There's the idea … when you're a high draft pick, especially out of college, that you're going to move rather quickly."
While the Phillies aren't ready to close the door on Savery's pitching career, they would like to know just how viable an option Savery's bat might be. That's a big reason why they've agreed to let Savery get some swings in as the season winds down, instructing manager Dave Huppert to use him as a designated hitter in a few games down the stretch, and hope to send him to the Florida instructional league primarily as a hitter this fall.
"He's struggled this year pitching-wise. We're not going to stick our head in the sand," Phillies assistant general manager Chuck Lamar said. "We haven't given up – and hopefully he hasn't given up – pitching-wise. But there comes a time when … I don't care how good a hitter he was at Rice, this is a different league. So we just want to get a feel for, can this guy truly have that kind of ability?"
"We haven't closed any doors or anything," added Savery, who won 16 games between Reading and the IronPigs last season. "It's just an idea."
Savery made his IronPigs DH debut Monday against Rochester and went 1-for-4 with an RBI single. He was in the lineup again on Friday at Scranton and was 3-for-4 with a double, two singles and two runs scored.
Through Friday he was hitting ..333 (10-for-30) with two doubles, a home run (as a pinch hitter) this season, and .265 (30-for-83) in his career with six doubles, a homer and five RBIs.
When not on the mound at Rice Savery was in the middle of the Owls lineup playing first base or serving as the DH, sometimes for himself when he pitched. In three collegiate seasons he hit .356 (261-for-733) with a slugging percentage of .501, with 56 doubles, five triples, 20 home runs and 169 RBIs, and as a junior was a first-team All-American team as a utility player (in addition to as a pitcher) by hitting .366 with six homers and 60 RBIs.
"I would never underestimate how tough it would be to actually switch," Savery said. "There's a reason I wasn't drafted as a hitter; I know it would be a challenge."
He and the Phillies still consider him a pitcher, and he has shown improvement since the all-star break. "I don't know what's going to happen, what the plan is. But if I can pitch the way I did today I'll probably keep throwing," he said after he allowed two runs and threw just 66 pitches in six innings last Sunday against Rochester. "If I can pitch well, I'm obviously closer as a pitcher [to the major leagues] than as a hitter."
But since he has some ability with a bat in his hand, Savery said he owes it to himself to explore the option — if his day job doesn't work out.
"I've never made any secret that I enjoy hitting, and you only get a small window of opportunity to play this game," Savery said last week before his first game as the DH. "If pitching doesn't work out you'd like to leave everything out there, give everything you have to the game in the short time you have. And that's been it from my side of it. I don't want to leave anything unturned … I want to give everything a chance."
While Savery is obviously skilled with a bat in his hands, what he enjoyed the most of playing every day is the mental break it gave him from either element of the game.
"I've always had a chance to step away from one or the other," he said. "That is what I've always loved about doing both."
How Savery does down the stretch and this fall, both on the mound and at the plate, will help determine his future with the organization. The organization must add him to their 40-man roster this winter or risk losing him to another organization in the Rule 5 draft. On surface that risk appears minimal. But Savery was a first-round pick, is a left-handed pitcher — and, if he shows promise as a hitter, presents some interesting options for a team.
"We're going to let him swing the bat because not only does he like to do it, he's good at it," Lamar said. "Just to see …"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times