DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The winding journey that landed Phillippe Aumont at Spring Training with the Blue Jays as a non-roster invitee has been almost as arduous and remarkable as the 31-year-old right-hander’s path to figuring out who he is.
The first time Aumont walked away from baseball was in 2015, following two seasons in the Mariners' organization -- after being selected 11th overall in the 2007 Draft by Seattle -- and six years with the Phillies, parts of four in the Majors. He got a spot start on June 19 and allowed six runs and seven walks over four innings before calling it quits.
When the 6-foot-7, 240-pound hurler left the game for the second time, after feeling the magnetism of Team Canada pulling him back in -- winning a gold medal with the national squad at the 2015 Pan Am Games and finishing the season with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo -- he was in the White Sox organization. Aumont had made his 10th appearance for Triple-A Charlotte, and after not allowing a run in his previous four outings, he left his last professional appearance of '16 without recording an out.
After a season of playing for the independent Ottawa Champions, across the river from his home in Gatineau, Quebec, Aumont returned to affiliated baseball with the Tigers in 2018. Last year, he rejoined the Champions in the now defunct Canadian-American League to get back to the fun of baseball once more.
There, Aumont had the best season of his career, posting a 2.65 ERA over 18 starts and 118 2/3 innings, walking 23 and striking out 145. His impressive year on the mound came to an end after throwing eight shutout innings against Cuba at the 2019 Premier12 Tournament in November, allowing just two hits and striking out nine. In December, the Blue Jays announced that they had once again signed the righty, who has the potential to provide rotation depth or work his way into the big league bullpen with a plethora of open spots this spring.
“It’s exciting I’m actually in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays, being a Canadian kid, played independent ball, battled some off-the-field and on-field issues, and in the end, it was battling, 'Who the eff am I, really?'” Aumont said.
The Canadian pitcher spent much of his time early in his career worrying about what members of upper-level management thought of him, scrambling to figure out whose hands to shake and what impression he might leave, before realizing that he was preventing himself from enjoying the game.
“You’re not going to make the team because you shake the hand of somebody,” Aumont said. “You’ve still got to have fun. Having fun eased up everything. I was so focused that when I didn’t have a good game or had a bad start, it was like I failed and it was over. But it’s not over. I had to get over myself.”
Though Team Canada is responsible for extending Aumont’s career, an evolution to his repertoire has helped him earn his current spot on the roster. With Ottawa last season, looking for a pitch he could throw on his glove side -- in to lefties and away from righties -- he developed a cutter that led him to the success he found.
“I felt like if I could throw it a little more on the plate, let it cut, it would get there,” Aumont said. “Then I started having good success with it and decided to throw it on the other side, too, make them think I’m off the plate and coming back on the plate, missing the bat. It’s like a two-seamer, but it goes the other way. Guys don’t cheat as much on your fastball, and now it’s a four-pitch mix as opposed to three.”
“He’s a big guy, pretty big presence out there,” Adams said. “I really liked his cutter. All his pitches looked good. When he gets it out in front and releases out in front, everything moves really well and everything plays off each other really well. The cutter looks great, but shoot, all the other pitches look great.”
Paul Quantrill -- former Blue Jays hurler, current special advisor to the team and one of Team Canada’s pitching coaches -- also liked what he saw from his pupil during his first bullpen session of the season, and he hopes Aumont can do for Toronto what he has done for his country.
“His repertoire now, it’s almost like he’s simplified,” Quantrill said. “He knows what he’s good at and he can use his pitches whenever he wants. He’ll throw a cutter or slider when he feels like. A lot of guys can say it, but they can’t really do it. That’s part of his comfort level now. If he’s that guy when he’s on the mound in a Blue Jays uniform, he’ll be great, but he has to do it like he does when he’s with the Canadian program.”