Friend moving quickly through Phillies' system

Friend moving quickly through Phillies' system

Friend moving quickly through Phillies' system
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Justin Friend has started a personal trend that he hopes continues during his ascent through the Phillies' Minor League system.

The past two years, he's made an All-Star team. Both times, he's been promoted before having the chance to play in the game.

Friend, a right-handed reliever, was most recently promoted from Double-A Reading to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 30, just a couple days after he was named to the Eastern League All-Star team.

"I didn't think it was going to come this fast, but I got called into [manager Dusty Wathan's] office and he was just smiling," Friend said. "He was like, 'Well, you're not going to the All-Star Game again.' I was like, 'You know what? I'll take this over going to the All-Star Game any day of the week.'"

Jumping two levels in two years is a testament to Friend's success in the Phillies organization. A 2010 Rule 5 Draft selection, the 26-year-old shut down opposing hitters as the closer for the Reading Phillies. In 27 innings over 25 appearances, Friend allowed just one run and recorded 14 saves.

He's pitched in four games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley thus far, and is 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA and a save.

"He challenges the hitters, he makes them earn what they get," Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's a ground-ball type of a pitcher. For him to adjust to this situation with the atmosphere here and everything, I think he's done a very nice job coming in and attacking the hitters with strikes and mixing his pitches."

Friend throws four pitches, which is a lot for a closer. His fastball isn't overpowering, but he also has a sinker, a slider and a changeup in his repertoire. He said he'll only throw the changeup once or twice a game and considers his slider his "out" pitch.

This past year, Friend benefitted greatly from pitching for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. He went 2-0 with a 3.44 ERA and three saves.

"That was the biggest stepping stone for me from last year to this year," Friend said. "I could probably put most of the success toward that, just for of the fact that going over there and playing against those guys. A lot of those guys are Triple-A, big league hitters. Just going there and realizing that you can get those guys out was just a confidence thing for me."

Friend said his personal goals for the rest of this season are to stay healthy, continue to develop as a pitcher and throw well enough to build a good foundation to build off next season.

Friend knows the Phillies' young and inexperienced bullpen has been struggling mightily this season. Some Triple-A pitchers might take that as a sign to start thinking about a September callup, but Friend isn't thinking about that possibility.

"If you start to think toward September, you might not be here in September," he said. "You might not pitch good enough and they send you back down to Double-A in August.

"I just kind of want to go day by day here and enjoy being here, but also know that there's another place that you want to be. If you pitch well here, maybe you do get that opportunity. If you think that you're going to get it and you don't get it, then you're disappointed. But if you don't think your going to get it and you get it, then the excitement is there. For me, I can't really look too far forward."

Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.