Aaron Phillips enjoys studying history and is particularly intrigued by the world wars and the Cold War. It is a field of study that in large part led him to St. Bonaventure, where he enjoys the small-campus feel and academic challenges.
While he digs into the history books to acquire a better understanding of such critical world events, the sophomore has been winning more than his share of battles on the pitcher’s mound.
The 6-4 right-hander worked 29 innings this season before he yielded an earned run. Opposing batters were hitting all of .177 against the upstate New York native.
It was not until a 4-1 loss at VCU on Easter Sunday, when he was tagged for three runs in the sixth inning of what was a scoreless game, and eventual 4-1 defeat, that Phillips had something other than goose eggs for an ERA. In fact, no other starting pitcher in Division I had logged as many innings from the start of this season without allowing an earned run.
“I am just trying to throw strikes this year because last year I had a bit of a problem walking batters and the hits I gave up would lead to runs,” he said, when asked about his dominance so far in 2016. “This year I have been getting ahead of hitters and I have been working with my catcher a little better.”
Indeed, too many times at all levels of the game base on balls often come back to haunt a pitcher. Last season as a freshman Phillips issued an alarming 23 free passes in 44 1/3 innings in his role as a swingman. So far this season he has walked just eight batters in 31 2/3 innings.
What might be most impressive about Phillips’ work this season is that he has struck out only 14 batters. In other words, he is not dominating hitters, but making them hit his pitch. That is something which largely eluded him as a freshman.
“If you throw strikes, trust your defense and not try to strike out everybody, you have a much better chance,” said Phillips, who altered his windup prior to this season. “It keeps the pitch count down and allows you to go deeper into the game and give your team a better chance to win.”
Phillips, who appeared in relief at Villanova on April 2 so he could get in a little work after his scheduled start for April 3 was canceled in advance due to a miserable forecast, is a full-time player who is penciled into the lineup card at either second base of left field on days he is not pitching. As a batter he has had to learn to refrain from doing the things he wants opposing batters to do when his on the mound.
After hitting an unsightly .147 in 68 at-bats last season, Phillips has become much more select. The result is an average that more than doubled (.296) through 54 at-bats.
“I was getting off on the front foot too much and chasing balls early in the count,” said the oldest of four brothers. “I am a more patient hitter and allowing pitches to come to me.”
Everything came his way as a senior at Cleveland Hill High School in Cheektowaga, about 10 miles outside Buffalo, when Phillips hit .530 and fashioned at ERA of 1.00. He graduated as the school’s career, single-season and single-game record holder for strikeouts.
He also lettered in basketball and could have attended Division III Fredonia State, which is part of New York’s state university system, but baseball is what Phillips has long wanted to pursue.
Pursuing law school is something Phillips said he wants to do. He has started prepping for that day when at the urging of one of his instructors he tacked on a minor in political science. It is history he enjoys most, though.
“My favorite teacher in high school was my history teacher and he is somebody that I looked up to,” he said. “He made the course and the subject more interesting than anything else and I wanted to look into it more.”
Phillips is making things interesting on the mound and halfway through his sophomore season he could be writing a memorable chapter in the Bonnies’ baseball history books.
Above: Aaron Phillips more than doubled his batting average (.296) through 54 at-bats this season. (Courtesy St. Bonaventure University Sports Information)