MOOSIC, Pa. - He is envisioned as the probable Next Big Thing by the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he will make his major league debut tonight at home against the New York Mets.
But one week ago, in the cramped, musty quarters that pass for a locker room at a minor league ballpark tucked in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains, starting pitcher Gavin Floyd was not contemplating his first taste of the big leagues. He was too busy digesting a bruising night in the life of his baseball education.
Eighteen hours earlier, the classroom at Lackawanna County Stadium had been both unkind and useful to Floyd. The visiting Triple-A Ottawa Lynx had roughed him up for 10 hits, six earned runs and two homers and had knocked him out in the seventh inning, en route to a 7-5 victory over the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons.
Floyd, 21, the red-haired, 6-foot-5, 215-pound prospect with the golden right arm from Mount St. Joseph High, the Severna Park kid who is three years removed from collecting a $4.2 million signing bonus from the Phillies after becoming their top pick and the fourth overall selection in the 2001 amateur draft, exuded the humility his game demands.
"To be successful, you have to realize there is a ton of failure in this game. How you handle it is going to dictate how well you do in this game," Floyd said.
"You can feel horrible on the mound, get away with so much and still get a win. And you can feel so good and make good pitches, but [hitters] make good contact and you lose. It's a very confusing sport. Failure is the best medicine for perfection."
Floyd's rise through the Phillies' farm system has been swift, quicker than planned. A combined 18-9 record over two seasons of Single-A ball sent him to Double-A Reading, where he held opposing hitters to a .212 average and struck out 94 batters, allowing 93 hits, 46 walks and five home runs in 119 innings.
Philadelphia general manager Ed Wade said, ideally, Floyd would have remained at Reading until season's end this month, then rested before reporting to the Arizona Fall League, where he still is scheduled to play.
But injuries to the major league staff have hastened Floyd's ascendance. With Randy Wolf rehabilitating his sore left elbow, the Philly brass decided to get the kid's feet wet now. One week after pitching before nearly 6,500 fans at the site of a former coal mine, Floyd will face such big-time hitters as Mike Piazza, Cliff Floyd and Todd Zeile before some 40,000 at new Citizens Bank Park.
"We want [Floyd] to absorb the atmosphere and keep his arm in shape. We've got a guy with a high profile and a ton of ability. There's been an awful lot of attention paid to him before he's gotten here. He's also worked about 150 innings this year," Wade said.
"Necessity has dictated this as much as anything. This guy has got all the tools to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. We're going to be very cautious with how we use him."
As for the hype that has preceded him, Floyd, who met with the Philadelphia media Tuesday after Wade informed him of the organization's decision two nights earlier, said, "I can't get too stressed about it, the hype and the questions and the expectations. I have high expectations of myself, so there's no added pressure. I have a lot to learn."
Floyd got schooled plenty over one month, after making the challenging jump to Triple-A in late July, following his dominance over 20 starts at Double-A. In five starts for the Red Barons, Floyd was 1-3 with a 4.99 ERA.
He acknowledged some late-season fatigue and was pleased with his ability to avoid disastrous innings. He criticized himself last week for falling behind too many Ottawa hitters, for lacking command of his dual meal tickets - a fastball consistently clocked in the low 90s and the wicked curve that made the pro scouts flock to his high school - and for trying to make the perfect pitch at times, instead of just trusting his stuff and letting it rip.
"It's a big difference from Double-A to Triple-A," Red Barons manager Marc Bombard said. "Down there, you get away with throwing 2-0 fastballs and the hitters might chase a lot of balls out of the [strike] zone. Up here, they don't do that as much. It's more about the ability to adjust, whether you're a pitcher or a hitter. We all know he's got a great arm. This is a good experience for him. He's held his own."
Ottawa gave Floyd some good pointers on a night that also yielded good things. He surrendered three runs and two homers in the first two innings, mainly due to poor location. Backup catcher and No. 9 hitter Tom McGee sent the loudest message by drilling Floyd's fat, 3-2 fastball over the left-field fence for a bases-empty shot in the second.