From the Pages of Vine Line: Getting the Call
Though Casey Coleman has started a few games recently, he spent most of 2013 making the transition from starter to full-time reliever. (Photo by Dave Durochik)
The following can be found in the August issue of Vine Line. For stories like this, an exclusive feature on the 25th anniversary of the lights at Wrigley Field and much more, be sure to subscribe to the magazine.
Back in March, right-handed pitcher Casey Coleman braced for his fate at the Spring Training postmortem the Cubs’ player development staff has with each player. The news: After ﬁve years of starting, Coleman was going to become a full-time reliever.
A few decades ago, this news would have been devastating to a young pitcher. Relievers were generally seen as guys who couldn’t hack it in the rotation. But today, there’s such a strong emphasis on bullpen specialization that relievers are being developed from the lowest levels.
“Now there’s such a focus on pitching depth, teams want [to develop] good arms as starters and relievers,” said Coleman, a 2008 15th-round pick from Florida Gulf Coast. “They’re not just talking about guys who can’t start and putting them in the ’pen. They’re getting the right guys for bullpen roles.”
So what makes a good reliever? First you have to have swing-and-miss stuff, but you also need to be mentally tough like Daytona lefty Jeff Lorick, who said he relishes the challenge of entering games in pressure situations.
“I like the adrenaline and spontaneity of the call to the bullpen,” said Lorick, whom the Cubs acquired from the Braves in the 2010 Derrek Lee trade. “It gets your blood pumping.”
Coleman and Lorick have emerged as two of the better bullpen prospects in the system, but both admit they had to learn how to become good relievers.
“When you have a chance to get in every single game, your mental preparation is a lot different,” Coleman said. “You’ll have days with early wake-up calls and long bus rides. It doesn’t matter. You still have to be ready to pitch.”
Because relievers often work with the game on the line and very little margin for error, it’s important they can come into games with guns blazing and attack hitters in the strike zone. But some still need a reminder not to nibble.
“Earl Weaver was my manager in my ﬁrst year in the big leagues, and he made it clear to me that whether you were a reliever or a starter, he wanted you to throw strikes,” said Daytona pitching coach Storm Davis, a 13-year big league veteran who both started and relieved.
Davis tries to keep his message to players just as simple.
“I remind our relievers often that once they cross the white lines. it’s all about what happens at the plate,” Davis said. “It’s not about their delivery or anything mechanical. It’s the execution of the pitch—period. And one pitch doesn’t roll to the next.”
The bottom line is being aggressive and having a plan for getting the strikeout. Some of that has to do with sequencing pitches, and some of it has to do with paying attention to see what the starter was trying to do. But Davis said almost everyone gets the message and embraces it.
“When you put together world championship teams, all the pieces have to be in place,” Davis said. “You cannot win without two or three guys at the back end who can take over a game.”
—Chris Gigley, Freelance Writer