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Pirates minor league notebook: Indians' Worley healthy, making strides

| Saturday, May 31, 2014, 8:03 p.m.

His pitching once again matches his nickname.

Vance Worley is playing for his third organization in three years, but one main difference exists this season: He's healthy and living up to his Vanimal nickname.

In five starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, Worley is 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA. He has allowed 31 hits in 33 innings, striking out 27 and walking two.

He's replicating his 2011 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, when he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA, striking out 119 and walking 46 in 131 23 innings.

“I know he wants to get back to where he was, and I know he's close to being back to where he was,” Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer sad. “It's hard to excel at something when you're dinged up.”

Worley was the Minnesota Twins' Opening Day starter last season but admits he never was fully healthy in his one year with the organization. Worley had surgery to remove a bone spur and loose pieces of tissue in his elbow at the end of the 2012 season with the Phillies.

“I never really had a throwing program to come back from,” Worley said. “The next thing I know, I'm traded, and I have to clean things up real quick because, ‘Hey, you're going to be Opening Day starter.' ”

Things never got on track for him with the Twins. Worley went 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA before being sent to Triple-A Rochester, where his shoulder continued to bother him and his season was cut short in August.

“I continued to throw with the same mechanics that I had when I was hurt,” Worley said. “I know they wanted me to get healthy, and I did everything I could. They never got to see what I was really capable of doing.”

The Twins acquired Worley and pitcher Trevor May from the Phillies for outfielder Ben Revere. The Pirates acquired Worley in March for cash considerations. Worley remained in extended spring training before being sent to Indianapolis in early May.

“He had previous problems physically, so we wanted to go nice and slow,” Filer said. “We went over some mechanical things just to make sure he was healthy.”

The team also pored over video of Worley's outings from past years. The reason was simple: Examine what Worley did then, and see what he stopped doing.

The issue was more compensating for an injury. Worley had not lost his confidence to succeed in the major league, but knew he would struggle to do so with his injuries.

“I changed my mechanics to benefit the elbow,” Worley said. “But I was flying open with the front side, and (batters) could see everything coming out of my hand. I lost my deception.”

Everyone in Indianapolis says Worley is healthy and has no physical limitations. His fastball ranges from 89-93 mph, while he also will throw a cutter, changeup and 12-to-6 curveball, Filer said.

“When he's on, that small cutter is one of the pitches that has really helped him out recently,” Filer said. “He gets the ball in on the left-handers and just a little down and away on the right-handers. He's always on the attack, and that's what I love about watching him pitch.”

The only bump in the road has been a blister on Worley's middle finger, which kept him from throwing his cutter as effectively. He gave up six runs in one bad inning against Charlotte two starts ago, but Worley struck out 10 batters and allowed just two runs in eight innings in his last start.

Worley's ERA would be 2.25 if not for that one bad inning in Charlotte. He leads the International League in strikeouts since making his debut May 6.

Go ahead, send the runner

Jaff Decker is near the top of the International League with nine outfield assists, throwing four runners out at home, including two in a recent game.

But it's not necessarily arm strength that has led Decker to throw so many people out - from runners trying to extend a single into a double; or someone trying to score on a flyout or base hit.

“He's a 7 or 8 on arm strength, but he's an 11 on accuracy,” Indians manager Dean Treanor said. “There are times when you see a base hit and you want them to send the runner. … There are guys with stronger arms that are not as near as accurate as him. He does have arm strength, but every throw is accurate. It's uncanny with how he's throwing everybody out.”

Bounce back from the pen

Pitcher Jay Jackson struggled earlier this season, even being assigned to Jamestown at in mid-April. But he's hasn't given up a run in his last five outings, including a four-inning spot start Friday. He has struck out 11 batters in 10 23 innings in those outings.

Brian Peloza is a freelance writer.

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