ShareThis Page
Pirates

Kevin Gorman: Pirates intrigued by sidearmer Jordan Milbrath

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, 8:42 p.m.
Pirates pitcher Jordan Milbrath delivers during a game against the Braves Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jordan Milbrath delivers during a game against the Braves Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Pirates pitcher Jordan Milbrath delivers during a game against the Braves Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jordan Milbrath delivers during a game against the Braves Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The surprise of spring training is a sidearm pitcher whose story is as silly as his slider that doesn't end up where expected.

Jordan Milbrath's baseball career path has followed a similar trajectory.

It reached a breaking point last year, when he brought his bags to the field on the final day of spring-training camp with the Cleveland Indians and they issued him an unbelievable ultimatum.

"They pulled me aside and go, 'Hey, you can either take your release or you can start throwing sidearm,' " said Milbrath, 26.

"I fought it a little bit at first, especially at this late in my career because making an adjustment like that can either make or break it."

Ultimately, Milbrath agreed to drop his delivery from overhand to a sidearm slot. Success soon followed, as he went 5-3, with a 3.02 ERA and four saves, striking out 63 batters in 562⁄3 innings in a season split between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron.

What's more, after switching from a four-seam grip to a two-seamer, Milbrath's fastball improved from the mid 90s to touching 99 mph.

Now, the Rule 5 draft pick is a pitching out of the Pirates' bullpen.

"He's fighting for a spot," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's one of those rare guys who dropped his arm and his velocity picked up over the course of the season."

Milbrath can hardly believe it himself, as he was 10-24 with a 4.36 ERA in three seasons in Class A.

A 6-foot-6 right-hander, Milbrath's problem was that his head tilted to the left while throwing overhand. The Indians saw him throw sidearm while fielding grounders and asked, "Why can't you do that on the mound?"

So, he spent a month in extended spring training changing his arm slot. After going 2-1, with a 2.03 ERA in 15 innings at Lynchburg, he was promoted to Akron.

"Once we decided we were going to do it, I completely sold out," Milbrath said. "As a pitcher, you have to not only throw hard — everybody throws hard nowadays — you have to separate yourself. I feel throwing sidearm separates me from other pitchers.

"I think we're past the stage of, 'Is this going to work?' I think it's working out for me. This is what I was meant to do. I love the game of baseball. That's what I want to do for a living. I feel like this is the best way for me to do that and continue to do that."

Milbrath's motion is accentuated by his standing on the far right of the rubber, giving him good angles. Both the fastball and slider come out of the same slot, which makes it difficult for hitters to guess which one is coming. The fastball has movement, and the slider looks as if it's heading down the middle only to break outside and cause a silly swing and miss.

"That's any hitters dream — a fastball middle-middle — so if I can throw a pitch that just starts there and all of a sudden breaks out of that plane, then I'll have success," Milbrath said. "It looks like a pitch a hitter is going to want, but by the time he starts his swing, it's already out of the zone and I get a lot of nice strikeouts.

The question is whether Milbrath can find enough consistency to make the Pirates' 25-man roster.

If not, Milbrath must first clear waivers and then be offered back to Cleveland at half-price. The Pirates are taking a gamble either way, one that comes with great risk-reward if he develops.

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, for one, is enamored with Milbrath's untapped potential.

"It's something new to him," Searage said, "but, my gosh, the possibilities are endless."

And, like Milbrath has learned as a sidearmer, full of surprises.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me