By Nick Suss, MLB.com
If Ken Giles’ future were a baseball game, he’d be warming up in the bullpen right about now.
The Phillies’ setup man of the last two seasons, who reached 100 mph in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Marlins, has been nothing short of dominant in his brief big league career, posting an ERA of 1.46 and striking out 12 batters per nine innings in his 86 1/3 career innings.
More than 70 percent of those 259 outs he’s recorded have come in the eighth inning, as he’s been bridging the gap between the starters and long bullpen arms and closer Jonathan Papelbon.
But Giles’ status may soon change.
Much like a closer watching a tie game in the eighth inning, anxious to see whether his team requires his services, Giles is waiting to see whether his team will need him in the eighth or ninth inning in the coming months. With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline less than two weeks away and Papelbon expected to be one of the Phillies’ main trade chips, Giles may have to take over for the franchise’s all-time saves leader within the next month.
On Saturday night, Giles pitched in a high-leverage situation as a closer would, and once again proved his ability. He worked himself into an eighth-inning jam, allowing one-out singles to Martin Prado and Christian Yelich, but worked out of it by forcing Justin Bour to ground out to first base and striking out Adeiny Hechavarria with a 100-mph fastball, his first three-digit heater of the year.
“That last one I just went and let it fly,” Giles said. “If I walked him, I had an open base. It was just one of those things like, ‘Full count, let it fly.'”
Giles said that despite the high stakes of the situation, he didn’t view it as an audition for the closer’s role. That being said, pitching the ninth inning is ultimately what he is striving for.
“It is my goal,” he said.
To Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin, Giles is doing what is necessary to move into the role, regardless of if he does or not.
“I think he certainly has the ability to [close], he’s got the stuff to do it,” Mackanin said. “Pitching the eighth inning, although it isn’t the final three outs, it’s still a pressure cooker. And he’s handled that relatively well. Actually, very well. And we’re not going to know until he’s put into that position if and when that happens.”
Despite the unknowns, Mackanin said he believes Giles will be a closer for the Phillies someday, even if it doesn’t come this year.
“[Pitching] is all a matter of mechanically being able to repeat your delivery and so there is some emotion involved and there’s a lot of mechanics involved and there is temperament,” Mackanin said. “Nobody can really tell how good a guy is going to be. He could be very good. I would think that he’s going to be a closer at some point.”