PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies' Minor League reliever Ken Giles is off to an impressive start with Double-A Reading, but the organization would like to see the hard-throwing right-hander improve his control of his secondary pitches before seriously considering him as a candidate to join the Major League bullpen, which entered Wednesday with a 5.53 ERA.
Giles is 5-for-5 in save chances with Reading, and he has struck out the side in four of those outings. In six appearances this season, he's allowed just one hit and fanned 16 against three walks over seven innings.
"He's off to a good start and he's recording the strikeouts," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said on Wednesday. "His control is good early on in the at-bats and he's able to expand with a couple of pitches that he has, which is primarily his fastball. Well aware of what he's doing and keeping tabs on that."
Giles has a plus fastball, but Sandberg said he "looked like he needed work with the control" of his offspeed pitches during Spring Training. Though Giles' numbers in Double-A are stellar, Sandberg cautioned that the quality of hitters at that level does not stack up to Triple-A and Major League hitters.
"If a guy doesn't throw strikes, the Major League hitters aren't going to swing until they throw strikes, and they will lay off certain pitches that the Minor Leaguers will swing at," Sandberg said. "There is something to that. So when you look at a guy doing well like Kenny Giles, the question is, 'What is the quality of the pitch? What is the location? Are they swinging at balls that are out of the zone for strikeouts, or are they quality pitches that are in the zone?'
"I haven't gotten word on the secondary pitches and what he's doing, but I'm seeing the numbers, and the quality of the fastball is better in the zone."
Papelbon, bullpen shake off early struggles
PHILADELPHIA -- Jonathan Papelbon said a key for the Phillies bullpen is to learn from their failures.
The bullpen imploded Monday in a 9-6 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. B.J. Rosenberg became the first pitcher in at least 100 years to allow home runs to the only three batters he faced in a game, and Jake Diekman loaded the bases before serving up a game-winning grand slam to Dan Uggla in the ninth.
"Don't forget about it, but learn from it," Papelbon said. "Learn from it, store it in the bank, put it away and when you need that deposit later in your career, bring it back out. That's the way we're going about it. That's the only way to go about it. That's what I'm trying to show these guys.
"Hey, I blew the first [save] of the season. We've got to bounce back. We've got a long way to go."
Diekman had been on a roll until Monday, allowing two hits, one walk and striking out seven in 4 1/3 scoreless innings in five appearances. He pitched the ninth Monday, because Papelbon had pitched in three consecutive days. It was Diekman's first time in a closing situation.
"It's still just another inning," Diekman said. "If you actually break it down, it's just another inning. Still attack the hitters. They're still going to get out seven out of 10 times, just like any other inning during the game. It's just that there's a little more pressure. But you take away that and it's exactly the same. I feel like that's the biggest thing."
Papelbon has thrown four scoreless innings in four appearances since he blew a save April 2 in Texas. He has allowed one hit, one walk and has struck out three.
He said April 5 in Chicago that he needed to pitch more than throw (i.e. blow his fastball past hitters), like he had in the past. It is necessary without the velocity Papelbon once had on his fastball.
"I think I'm starting to feel good," Papelbon said. "Starting to get off the blocks, you know? That's been key for me. Obviously, I think my delivery is a little bit more on time."
Papelbon also changed his intro music at Citizens Bank Park from Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" to Meek Mill's "Bout That Life," which features a speech at the beginning from professional wrestling legend Ric Flair. Papelbon has one of Flair's pink robes and a photo of a bloodied Flair hanging next to his locker. Both are autographed.
"I've been a Ric Flair guy," Papelbon said. "He came and met me and [Dustin] Pedroia in Boston. He gave us the robe, but the belt, Pedroia stole. I tried to get the belt back from him, but he won't, so I'm getting his WWE Big Gold champion belt. It's coming in. The real deal one. No [fake] one. Big Gold Belt."
And the new intro music?
"I heard it in Spring Training," Papelbon said. "Once I heard it, I knew it was it. I really don't care what comes up after it, either. I just like the beginning. It gets me going. That's all that matters."
Hamels getting closer to rejoining rotation
PHILADELPHIA -- Cole Hamels could return to the Phillies rotation next week, provided everything goes well with his scheduled Minor League rehab start on Thursday.
Hamels, building arm strength as he recovers from tendinitis in his left biceps, is expected to increase his workload to 90 pitches with Class A Advanced Clearwater. That would put the left-hander on track to start against the Dodgers in Los Angeles as early as April 22, and Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said Wednesday "that's a distinct possibility." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg agreed, and said he was "optimistic" Hamels would make his season debut at Dodger Stadium.
While Hamels is close to being activated, right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is getting close to pitching off a mound. Gonzalez is on the 60-day disabled list and has not pitched competitively in nearly two years. The Cuban originally agreed to a $48 million contract with the Phillies last July, but he ultimately signed a $12 million deal in August following concerns with his physical. Proefrock said the organization would not rush Gonzalez to the Major Leagues.
"I don't think that was ever our expectation of him after what happened with the health questions that led to the contract that we ended up signing him to," Proefrock said. "I think we want to be very careful with him and make sure he's comfortable and really assimilated into the organization and the culture before we put him in that type of pressure situation. I think we want to make sure he's 100 percent healthy, and we're going to go slow with him and hopefully get him on a rehab assignment when he's ready for that and see where he's able to help us."
In other injury news, Proefrock said right-handed reliever Ethan Martin has started to throw bullpen sessions and outfielder Darin Ruf has started baseball activities and should begin a hitting progression early next week.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jalaymance. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.