READING, Pa. - Reading Fightin Phils closer Jesen Therrien, early in what appears to be a breakout season, is likely not major-league ready just yet.
But part of him is.
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"He's come up with a big-league slider," Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk said before Friday's game against New Hampshire. "In my opinion, it's ready for the big leagues. … He's still got some stuff to learn, but his slider has become a very good pitch for him."
Therrien can only hope the rest comes in time - that he is able to continue his climb up the organizational ladder piece by piece, step by step.
A Montreal native in his sixth professional season, he tries not to think about the big picture, tries not to discern how he fits in the Phillies' master plan.
"Those are decisions, I'm not the one making [them]," he said, "so my thing is, I control what I can do and control one pitch at a time."
Especially the slider, which the 24-year-old right-hander uses to complement a low-90s fastball. He pitched a scoreless inning to earn Friday's 7-6 victory - which came courtesy of Scott Kingery's walk-off solo homer in the ninth - and is now 2-1 with a 1.19 ERA in 17 appearances.
Therrien has also converted all seven of his save opportunities and is riding a 17 1/3-inning scoreless string covering his last 12 outings.
His start is a matter of improved confidence and command. While he struggled with his control earlier in his career - his pre-Double A strikeout/walk ratio was roughly 2-1 - he has been able to pound the strike zone consistently since arriving in Reading late last season. He has 53 strikeouts and eight walks in 39 2/3 innings over that span, including 31 and three in 22 2/3 innings this season.
He attributes that to his offseason work with fellow Montreal native Eric Gagne, who won the 2003 Cy Young Award after saving 55 games with the Dodgers. The 41-year-old Gagne, whose decade-long major-league career ended in '08, called Therrien out of the blue three years ago and invited him to his home in Arizona, and Therrien has stayed with Gagne for two months each of those winters.
They have long-tossed. They have worked on mechanics. And they have discussed the mental aspects of their craft - things Gagne is still trying to put to use with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, and things Therrien has found useful as well.
"He helped me a lot with making adjustments quickly," Therrien said of Gagne. "That's what I'm doing. If I'm pitching a pitch that's not in the right location, I know why, so just keep that in mind and make the adjustment quickly."
Schrenk, while not completely aware of what goes on between the two pitchers each offseason, sees a little of Gagne's trademark aggressiveness in Therrien.
"Whatever it takes for guys," Schrenk said.
Therrien is the son of a French Canadian mother and Haitian father. Growing up in Canada, he played some pond hockey, and while he remains a fan of the sport, baseball was always his game.
"I remember one day I was in elementary school, and the teacher asked everybody, 'Hey, what do you want to do in life?'" he recalled. "Some people say president. Some people say, 'I want to be a teacher.' My thing was baseball player."
He developed quickly, pitching for Team Canada's Under-18 World Cup team at age 17 and for the same club a year later in the Pan Am Games. He was also part of the national team in the World Baseball Classic earlier this spring.
The Phils took Therrien in the 17th round of the 2011 draft, but he went just 2-8 over his first two seasons of rookie ball, primarily as a starter. His control was, of course, the culprit; he offset 60 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings with 35 walks.
"He just wasn't being consistent enough to throw strikes to start, without having to go to our bullpen," Schrenk said.
Next stop, a relief role.
"Once they put me in the bullpen," Therrien said, "I just fell in love with it."
He began progressing through the system. And now he continues his climb, piece by piece and step by step.