New Pirates pitcher Eppley brings special delivery to team's staff
BRADENTON, Fla. — When putting together a bullpen, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington tries to include as many types of pitchers as possible.
“You want different looks,” Huntington said. “You want a balance of left- and right-(handers). You want some power. You want some guys who can get ground balls. We haven't had a sidearmer yet, but maybe there will come a time when we find that right guy.”
Cody Eppley hopes he can be that guy. The right-hander, who signed a minor league deal in November, is the only true sidearm pitcher in camp.
Eppley, 28, was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2008 and put up decent stats — a 2.10 ERA, seven saves in 19 outings and 34 strikeouts in 252⁄3 innings — in rookie ball. At the time, he threw from over the top.
In spring training the next year, however, Eppley's fastball velocity dipped into the mid-80 mph range. That's low enough to be worrisome for a reliever who hadn't yet reached the middle levels of the minor leagues, so Rangers coaches suggested Eppley switch to a sidearm delivery.
“They thought dropping my arm down would loosen it up and free it up, make my arm a little more whippy,” Eppley said. “That's what happened. My velocity came back.”
Eppley never will be a flamethrower, but his 88-91 mph range is enough to do the job. He also throws a slider and a changeup.
It took Eppley about a year to get comfortable with his new style. He is 6-foot-5, but the sidearm delivery robs him of most of his downward plane, so having good movement on his pitches is vital.
“The hardest thing was to throw strikes with the fastball and offspeed stuff,” he said. “It was hard to get a release point for that.”
Although he still was adjusting to the new mechanics, Eppley did well in 2009 at Low-A Hickory. In 37 appearances, he had a 2.93 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP and averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
During spring training in 2010, one of Eppley's mentors was right-hander Darren O'Day, a sidearmer whom the Rangers claimed off waivers during the previous season.
“He's kind of like me in that he threw sidearm out of necessity,” said O'Day, who is in camp this spring with the Baltimore Orioles. “It takes a leap of faith to buy into that, especially for a guy like him who made it to the minor leagues throwing overhand. He was throwing 90, 91 mph with a really sharp slider. I helped cut down his learning curve and told him the mistakes I made and things to avoid.”
Eppley made big strides in 2010, moving from Single-A to Triple-A over the course of one season.
Eppley was released at the start of the 2012 season and claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees. He went on to have his best season.
Eppley pitched in 59 games and put up a 3.33 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP and averaged 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
He also was reunited with O'Day, who was in the Yankees' bullpen.
“When I got hurt, Cody was there doing what I did,” O'Day said. “He was so good at it, he took my job.”
Last year Eppley bounced from the Yankees to the Minnesota Twins and spent practically the entire season in the minors. He's in camp with the Pirates as a nonroster player.
“Sidearmers are a little ... abstract,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “One thing we do have in our favor is a video of him throwing (from 2012). We're going off that. Right now he's throwing the ball fairly well, and he's close to where he was in 2012.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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