Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is going full-throttle on the concept controlling the strike zone.
You could see it in the team's first selection in last week's draft. And you could see it in the roster moves he made on Tuesday (see story).
A week after selecting University of Virginia on-base machine Adam Haseley — his signing will be official in the next day or two — Klentak dropped underperforming veterans Jeanmar Gomez and Michael Saunders from the roster.
Gomez had five good months as the Phillies' closer last season, but has since fallen hard. He was replaced in the bullpen by 26-year-old Hoby Milner, a sidewinding lefty who struck out 27 and walked just four in 27 2/3 innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
Saunders, who opened the season as the Phillies' No. 5 hitter, was let go after hitting just .205 with a .257 on-base percentage in 200 at-bats. He proved not to be the "professional hitter" the Phillies hoped they were getting when they signed him for $9 million in January.
"It definitely didn't work out the way that we hoped it would, or the way Michael hoped it would," Klentak said. "Obviously in January this was not the story we were hoping would be written."
Klentak's affinity for players who control the strike zone — i.e., pitchers who throw strikes and hitters who work counts, don't chase bad pitches and walk more than they strike out — was further illustrated by the player who replaced Saunders on the 25-man roster. Outfielder Cameron Perkins got the call over Nick Williams.
Williams, 23, is a top prospect who has swung a hot bat at Triple A Lehigh Valley in recent weeks. He entered play Tuesday night hitting .280 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs. However, he had struck out 79 times, walked just nine and had an on-base percentage of just .314. By contrast, Perkins, 26, was hitting .298 with six homers, 21 RBIs and a .388 on-base percentage. He had walked 27 times and struck out 35.
"We look at every player individually," Klentak said. "I think a couple of the areas where Cam is ready is, yeah, his ability to control the strike zone, his ability to play the outfield. I think he's a good fit for where we are right now. By no means is the fact that he's being promoted today a reflection of our opinion of any of the other guys that are still in Triple A, specifically the guys on the [40-man] roster; we still have very high hopes for their futures. But as I said last week when we were talking about Nick specifically, there are still some things that we want him to work on. And that really hasn't changed, even though Nick has been hot again for the last week.
"Cameron Perkins has had a really good first half of the Triple A season, and, importantly, he's done it in areas that are really important to us as a franchise. This is a guy who has worked hard at controlling the strike zone, he can play all three outfield spots, he's a good athlete, he's a little bit older for a minor-league guy. He's done everything he needs to do. It's an excellent time for him to come up and get some playing time."
Manager Pete Mackanin said he was eager to get a look at Perkins. He will get frequent playing time, but probably not play every day, although that could come if he hits. Another difference between Perkins and Williams and eventually Dylan Cozens: The Phillies hope Williams and Cozens can develop into game-breakers who play every day. When they come up, they need to play regularly. Perkins projects as more of a reserve or semi-regular outfielder so management will be more comfortable with him sitting on occasion.
Gomez and Saunders were both designated for assignment. The Phillies have seven days to dispose of their contracts through a release or a trade.