DUNEDIN, Fla. - As the Phillies batted in the second inning yesterday at Dunedin Stadium, one fan in the crowd turned to the man sitting next to him and asked who the blond righthander was pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Two things we can safely assume: The guy wasn't a Phillies fan, and he obviously missed the most sizzling Hot Stove move of the off-season.
The pitcher was Kyle Drabek, and this game was a huge deal by Grapefruit League standards because the Phillies' 2006 first-round pick was going against the team that reluctantly surrendered him as the prospect centerpiece in the three-way deal that brought six-time all-star Roy Halladay to Philadelphia.
It was certainly a big deal for Drabek, who discussed his first appearance against his former team beforehand with his father, Doug, the former major-league pitcher who won a Cy Young Award with Pittsburgh in 1990.
"I told him I was pitching against [the Phillies], and he just told me it was just another team," Kyle Drabek said. "He goes, 'Don't get too excited; just go out there and pitch and don't try to overdo anything.' That's what I tried to go out and do."
So it was just another game?
"Definitely not," Drabek said. "I think this one kind of meant more because it was against the team that traded me."
Nevertheless, he managed to throw two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk in the process. It may have helped Drabek that he didn't know he was going to make his first Grapefruit League start for the Blue Jays until just before the game started.
"Lance Broadway was supposed to start," Drabek said. "He came out to stretch, and he was like, 'Aren't you supposed to be starting today?' I had no idea. I was real confused."
Blue Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton told Drabek he was indeed starting.
Drabek, 22, realized this was going to be a little different as soon as he headed to the mound for the first time against the organization that employed him for the first four years of his professional career. He couldn't help but make eye contact with Mike Zagurski, his close friend and former teammate with the Reading Phillies.
"Walking out to the mound . . . I'm looking straight into the Phillies' bullpen, and I see Zagurski, so I give him a little wave," Drabek said.
Drabek bumped into one of the Phillies' best hitters Tuesday night while eating dinner in a Clearwater restaurant.
"I saw [Chase] Utley . . . and he goes, 'Good luck, man,' " Drabek said. "He told me to just go out there and pitch. That's what I tried to do."
It was good luck for Drabek that neither Utley nor slugger Ryan Howard made the short trip from Clearwater to Dunedin.
"I didn't have to face Utley, so that is nice," Drabek said.
Drabek issued a two-out walk to Placido Polanco in the first inning, but got Raul Ibanez to ground out. A two-out error and a single by Wilson Valdez left Drabek in some trouble in the second, but he escaped by getting Carlos Ruiz to ground into a fielder's choice.
"I had a lot of fun today," Drabek said.
In the process, he also impressed the manager he never got to pitch for.
"Drabek looked good," the Phillies' Charlie Manuel said. "He's got a good arm, man. He's young, he throws hard, and he has a big future. I see a lot of talent. I see a drop-and-load guy like a Tom Seaver or a [Bartolo] Colon. He's a guy that has thick thighs and hips."
A year ago, Manuel said he envisioned a rotation that included both Drabek and Cole Hamels, who allowed one run in 32/3 innings yesterday during the Phillies' 4-2 exhibition win over the Blue Jays.
"When they both started the game, that kind of crossed my mind," Manuel said. "I thought last year at this time that Drabek was going to be in our rotation one of these days."
Instead, Drabek is a Blue Jay with a potentially bright future, and Manuel is perfectly content with having Halladay.