Norwin graduate making moves in minor leagues
Lancaster JetHawks pitcher Tommy Shirley can point to any number of reasons for his post-All-Star Break resurgence.
A tweaked delivery is helping, he said, as is his return to the starting rotation after spending the first half of the season in the bullpen.
But the 2007 Norwin graduate said a new exercise — yoga — is paying big dividends, as well.
“I kind of got singled out in the whole organization,” said Shirley, in his first year with the JetHawks, the Houston Astros' Class A Advanced affiliate. “It's mandatory for me to go to yoga, and they have me stretch three times a day. It's actually helped a lot in my mechanics and my delivery, just to get me smoother and looser.
“I actually started that right before the All-Star Break, and that's whenever I made the transition to ... a little different mechanics. All of that together has really worked.”
In his first year at the Class A Advanced level, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound lefty is 1-4 with a 3.61 ERA. Since the All-Star Break, however, he's 1-1 with a 2.98 ERA in seven appearances, including five starts.
He's glad for the push from the organization.
“I think they thought I had more in me than I was showing,” Shirley said.
Shirley, 24, was drafted by the Astros in the ninth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft after pitching for three seasons at Xavier University.
In his first three seasons, however, Shirley made just 29 appearances as he struggled with a lingering knee injury that eventually required surgery.
“After your first year, maybe, or your second year … you kind of get pushed back a little bit,” Shirley said. “I had some pretty good numbers, but that kind of kept me here. I kind of erupted pretty good here to have a pretty good season so far.”
Coming into this season, Shirley found himself in the bullpen with several recent Houston trade acquisitions in the rotation ahead of him.
Shirley made three starts during the first half of the season, awaiting a full-time opportunity in the JetHawks' rotation. He became a full-time starter July 5, pitching 5 2⁄3 innings in a 7-6 win over Inland Empire. Since then, he's pitched six full innings once and seven innings twice.
“It's just nice to get out there and get in the flow of the game,” Shirley said. “I usually get stronger as I go, so I can get more velocity and stuff like that after maybe the second or third inning.”
A tweaked delivery, which sees Shirley raise his arms over his head before coming home, also is contributing to his success.
“It helps slow me down and control it,” he said. “It kind of turned around my season.”
Lancaster plays its games in the California League, which is known for its offense. But Shirley's frame and natural cut fastball, which runs from 90 to 93 miles per hour, allow him to get batters out on ground balls.
With good peripheral numbers — Shirley strikes out 7.5 batters per nine innings and walks just 2.8 — he's hoping for a promotion to Class AA ball soon.
“I'm on the cusp right now, especially (because) we had a couple guys go up to the majors, young pitchers,” he said. “So I'm kind of waiting. I think I'll probably move up another level here pretty soon, hopefully, but you never know.”
For now, Shirley is working on improving his offspeed pitches — a changeup and curveball — in the hopes of remaining a starter at the higher levels.
With the trade deadline looming this week, Shirley expected the JetHawks' parent organization to make some moves. But while the Astros are rebuilding at the major league level, he said it's an exciting time to be in the organization.
“It's definitely one of the top organizations to be in, because they're not going out and signing guys (and) things like that,” he said. “They're trying to build from within, so there's a lot of opportunity.”