Seeing Some Individual Player Improvement During a 5-3 Start
(By Steve Melewski)
Right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong has a chance to be another case. He believes that some adjustments the coaches worked with him on during four days of a January mini-camp could be beneficial.
In his first 4 years in the Major Leagues, in parts of 2015 through 2018, Armstrong pitched to a 2.95 ERA in 53 games with a 1.138 WHIP, a 3.1 walk rate and a strikeout rate of 8.2 per every nine innings. Then in 2019, he posted a 5.13 ERA with the Orioles in 51 games with a 1.546 WHIP.
So he went to work with coaches Doug Brocail and Chris Holt in January on everything from mechanics to the shape of his pitches, particularly his cutter/slider. Coaches even thought that there may have been times he was tipping some pitches.
“We made some changes with the shape of the cutter, just to play (better) off my fastball,” Armstrong told me in this interview during the first spring training. “We’ve got that nailed down pretty good right now. TrackMan (data) and my live BP showed that it was right back to where it was in previous years. I’m focused less on velocity now than attacking ........ attack, attack, attack. When I do get ahead, my numbers are pretty good.”
Armstrong’s throwing error was costly in Saturday’s win, and led to 2 unearned runs against him. But over 3 innings for the season he has allowed two hits and no earned runs, with one walk and four strikeouts. Last year he threw his fastball 59 percent, and this year (so far), that is down to 36 percent. His slider usage has gone up from 29 to 54 percent.
“Having those guys (Brocail and Holt) in your corner has been very beneficial,” said Armstrong. “You get all different perspectives of the game. Making those adjustments kind of just simplified the task for me to be more efficient and on time with my delivery. The most important thing is to be consistent. So, I feel good about where I’m at right now ........ I just want to come in and pound the strike zone. Get in and get out as quickly as possible. I want to keep it rolling and stay consistent.”
During a Zoom interview Sunday, Armstrong was asked if he is comfortable playing the Marlins right now after their COVID-19 outbreak. The clubs are expected to play (weather permitting) 4 games over the next 3 days ........ “I think so. The Orioles have done a phenomenal job doing everything they can possibly do to keep us safe. I don’t think that we are stressed too much about the Marlins coming in. We’re doing our part here on and off the field, and are controlling what we can control. We’re going to take care of one another, and hold each other accountable,” he said.
Armstrong is part of a bullpen that has lost Richard Bleier - via trade to the Marlins - but has been excelling without him so far. The Orioles' bullpen gave up just two earned runs in 14.67 innings over the weekend against Tampa Bay. Since the bullpen pitchers allowed nine runs on opening night in Boston, the ERA for the bullpen is 2.78 over the past seven games.
If they can get hot enough during the season to make it into the playoffs that’d be exciting and all but it’ll be a real disappointment next year when we’ve gotta play another 162 game season and we realize this team is still not very good. Not to mention it’s gotta be stressing Elias out to think we could potentially not be picking in the top 10 next draft. Which brings the question...is an abbreviated and largely pointless season where the O’s play well worth it if it means taking a hit to the big picture? I think so, but I’m a fan and I just like to watch them win no matter what. The front office might think differently and we may see more Bleier type trades to try to pull the rug out from the good vibes.