© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
04/25/07 9:03 PM ET
Notes: Helms happy at hot corner
Converted first baseman adjusting to life across the diamond
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The secret to what Wes Helms feels has been his improved fielding has roots in the Jamie Moyer workout. When Moyer is floating pitches, the third baseman is guaranteed to see his share of awkwardly bouncing balls. "You're going to get a lot of ground balls and a lot of different bounces, because they don't hit him solid," Helms said. "They chop the ball and that's what they did last night." Helms fielded five of six chances on Tuesday, though he committed an error in the ninth that didn't cost the Phillies. He entered the game hitting .308, and has made three errors, two fewer than the highly regarded Ryan Zimmerman. Helms takes pride in being able to field his position. As part of his return to the position, he spent many extra hours in Spring Training fielding grounders long after the games had ended. "Third base is still a transition for me, and I'm getting better at it every day," said Helms, who started just 22 games at third base over the past two years for the Marlins and Brewers. "I'm going to make my share of mistakes, but I want to do what it takes." The biggest adjustment for Helms has been in throwing. Blessed with a strong arm, Helms had to adjust to throwing across the diamond, as opposed to flipping to second base (from first) on double-play grounders. Because of that arm, he plays a little deeper to improve his reaction time. "The biggest thing is getting my accuracy back," Helms said. "The arm strength is there, so it's just getting my feet back under me. I feel like it's coming back. It feel good over there." Helms needs to get to the point where muscle memory takes over and he doesn't have to think about throwing to first. "That will come through repetitions," he said. "I want to get to the point where I don't think about it. Right now, it's a broken down method. I catch it, set my feet and throw. Eventually, I'll get rid of the ball before I know it." Curving: The missing curve ball returned for Tom Gordon. The Phillies' closer spun off six of his signature pitches during his 16-pitch save on Wednesday night that came within a Helms error of being his first clean inning of the season. The right-hander struck out Brian Schneider on a curve, and the fact that he threw a half-dozen was encouraging to him. "Thank God everything came out better for me," Gordon said. "I still feel it's off a little, but I feel like I'm behind the ball better. I threw a few good ones. I hope this is the beginning of something." As Gordon's curveball improves, he'll rely less on a cut-fastball he's been using as a secondary pitch. The veteran knows how much he needs the pitch. "Most guys pitch off their fastballs," he said. "I've always been a guy that pitches more off curveballs. [The cut-fastball] is my third or fourth pitch. As the curve gets better, I may not have to use it." A nice return: Quick, which Phillies reliever has been the most reliable? If you said Antonio Alfonseca without thinking, give yourself 10 points. The right-hander is enjoying a resurgence, posting a 0.77 ERA in 10 appearances, spanning 11 2/3 innings. He's given up one run. "I see a better fastball than what I anticipated and he has better command," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He throws good, low strikes." Alfonseca has consistently been clocked in the low 90s, and his sinker has been particularly effective. Pitching coach Rich Dubee has often said that he feels Alfonseca has returned to the form he saw when he was Florida's closer, and Dubee was the pitching coach. After hurting his arm last season, he was released by the Rangers, and Alfonseca makes no secret of harboring anger toward then-manager Buck Showalter. If that has become motivation, Manuel is all for it. "I'll remind him," Manuel said. "I'll go, 'How about that Buck?' If it will make him pitch better, I'll bring it up every day." Coming Up: If weather permits, Cole Hamels will start the series finale against the Nationals on Thursday at 3:05 p.m. ET. The southpaw secured his spot as the new ace now that Opening Day starter Brett Myers is working from the bullpen. Hamels improved to 2-0 on the season with a dominant effort against the Reds. He had a career-high 15 strikeouts in a complete-game win, allowing five hits, two walks and one earned run.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.