Irvin staying patient in Triple-A after ASG start

July 19th, 2018

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Cole Irvin had his priorities in line.

While Irvin attended a gala the night before the Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio, Lehigh Valley teammate made his Major League debut for the Phillies at Citi Field. Irvin often peeked at his phone to keep tabs on the game. He wasn't missing his rotation-mate's first shot in The Show.

"It's awesome to see a guy that deserves it go up and do well," said Irvin, the Phils' 22nd-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, from the Coca-Cola Park dugout. "You want to pay attention to what he's doing."

A day after De Los Santos went from being the International League's best pitcher to a conundrum for Mets hitters, Irvin took De Los Santos' spot as All-Star starter and pitched a scoreless first inning with two strikeouts. A first half in which he ranked third among qualified pitchers in ERA (2.89), first in WHIP (1.07), second in wins (eight), fifth in strikeouts (90), second in walk rate (4.5 percent) and second in xFIP (3.22) got him there.

Irvin, who threw six scoreless innings in his first start of the second half on Monday, has pitched well enough that he could become the Phillies' first lefty starter since on Sept. 28, 2016, and the first of the club's 2016 Draft class to reach the Majors. It's unlikely, though, that Irvin's strong Triple-A performance will necessarily dictate a callup as it did for De Los Santos due to 40-man roster constraints -- Irvin doesn't need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft until after the 2019 season -- and a Phils rotation that has the fourth-best ERA in the National League.

Irvin doesn't mind. His priorities are, again, in order.

"If the big league club is taking notice of Enyel and [Trevor] Plouffe and [Mitch] Walding and these guys that they've called up, then they're paying attention to me," Irvin said. "All I can do is handle what I'm doing and just do my best and develop and get myself in a position to be the next guy."

The Phillies' fifth-round pick in 2016, Irvin has risen quickly through a Minor League system that is well-stocked with potential big league arms. He went 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA at Class A Short-Season Williamsport after being drafted. He skipped Class A Lakewood and began 2017 with Class A Advanced Clearwater, only to earn a midseason promotion to Double-A Reading.

There, Irvin met his first prolonged struggle as a pro. His home run numbers inflated to the point where he allowed 12 in a nine-game stretch. His innings count pushed 150, a tough ask for a young arm that had already surpassed that number the previous summer between his final season at the University of Oregon, the pros and instructional league.

"I was tired," Irvin said. "First full season, and it was a change to pitching every fifth day. I didn't know what to expect. This offseason, I had the ability to change and work out and prepare for that. I feel stronger than I did last year at this time."

Extra core work, hot tub soaks and dedicated time for icing his legs are a few of the things that make Irvin believe he's better prepared to continue this year's success into the second half of the season. Instead of fading, Irvin has gotten stronger as the year has gone on. The 24-year-old left-hander posted a 1.51 ERA in seven straight wins from May 7 to June 10.

"[Irvin has] been very consistent commanding the fastball and with the secondary pitches," Lehigh Valley pitching coach David Lundquist said. "Change has been a plus weapon. It's a pitch he can throw anytime. The curveball's been good and we tightened up the slider."

Irvin will take his good feeling into the second half of his season, knowing full well that won't necessarily bring him to Philadelphia. That's fine with Irvin, because with both the IronPigs and Phillies in first place, team and personal goals have aligned.

"I want to be the Pigs that win the championship, and I want to be here and witness it," Irvin said. "I want to have fun, and if my name is called with the Phils, I want to win there."