Drabek takes centre stage

Dustin McGowan’s minor setback this week could turn into a major break for 24-year-old Kyle Drabek. Nobody ever wants to win a job because of an injury to one of their teammates yet this is the situation that Drabek now finds himself in with just seven days remaining until Opening Day. McGowan’s right foot ailment should open the door for Drabek to break north with the club and how long he stays there ultimately will depend on his early performance.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos confirmed on Tuesday that McGowan will have a secure spot in the rotation once he is deemed healthy and back to full strength. That could come as early as April 21st against the Royals but it’s too early to know just when McGowan will be able to get back onto a Major League mound. What all of that means is that Drabek will have at least one start and possibly more to make a case that he deserves a full-time job in the big leagues and not just a spot start.

Drabek’s main competition will come from Brett Cecil, who could still open the year as Toronto’s No. 3 starter but will need a strong month of April to solidify his spot. If Cecil struggles and Drabek excels that likely would be enough to justify making the switch. It’s shaping up to be an interesting first month of the season as the competitions in Spring Training spill over into the beginning of the year.

Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @gregorMLB where I am posting various news and tidbits from around Spring Training. Here are some recent leftovers about Drabek’s five shutout innings on Tuesday night against the Yankees:

John Farrell on Drabek:

Ability to repeat delivery help control emotions on the mound?

“No question they go hand in hand. It’s somewhat the chicken and the egg. To me, when he pitches with more emotional control as he has shown, he doesn’t overthrow the baseball, he doesn’t come out of his delivery, he’s able command the fastball and particularly all his pitches more consistently. So, he’s doing a very good job.”

What were the minor tweaks to delivery?

“He had a tendency when he got to the top of his balance point, to have his weight shifted to his heels. It created a bit of a back arch, so when he came out of his delivery to the point of his landing, his head was off line a little bit. He’d get inside the baseball and that’s why you’d see a lot of those fastballs missed up and in to right-handers or up to his arm side. As he’s repeated that one delivery, that’s allowed him to establish a release point that has been much more consistent as has the overall strike throwing ability.”

He was falling off to first base side?

“When he overthrows. Not uncommon for any pitcher. They’re going to fall off to their glove side just by over exerting and that goes back to that trust and relaxation versus overthrowing and pitching with more of a linebacker mentality as opposed to a pitcher.”

Common for a young pitcher to not have control of his emotions?

“It’s probably more common that a young guy has them when they first come to the big leagues. The transition phase for any young player, particularly a young starting pitcher because everything is so magnified because of the position, sometimes it takes getting your feet wet, going back down and learning from those experiences, and coming back with the knowledge that you gained the first time around.”

Magnified because of place in the trade as well?

“No, magnified because of the position. Players come to the big leagues through many different paths as we know. Kyle’s a Blue Jay. Obviously he was drafted by the Phillies, but the fact that he’s here with us now, there is an added magnification because of who he was traded for, but as a starting pitcher as we all know you can’t hide out there and the focus is on you from the first pitch you throw to the last pitch you throw.”

Differnt this spring than last?

“There are subtleties in the mechanics. If you didn’t know them before you might not say there has been a drastic change. it’s not like we changed an arm slot or a full windup, more than anything what he has shown is that he knows himself better. What that line of over exertion is, what the right line is his delivery.”

Last year you guys asked Drabek to stop throwing his cutter. What’s the current status of that pitch?

“Right now he has used that very sparingly. We haven’t mandated that he not throw it but we wanted to emphasize basically simplifying his game. Making his delivery more consistent. Getting back to three pitches, not five and refining three there’s a long list of big league pitchers that have pitched with three pitches. Just overall simplification and just getting things pretty straight forward for him is where the consistency has to start for him.”

Did that pitch become a crutch for him last season?

“That goes back to the mental side of it. many young pitchers, when they’re unsure of themselves in a way of how effective their fastball is. When he’s a four-seam fastball pitcher he feels like he has to get greater velocity. That’s where the inconsistent command came in. So he went to the cutter, it had late movement, he trusted it to move off the bat head a little bit more. That’s where the two seamer has replaced the cutter and it’s less stressful on the arm, it has later action and he puts the ball on the ground with it.”

Kyle Drabek:

Happy with your outing?

“I was more happy that when I was getting in trouble I was able to keep my composure and mechanics in check.”

McGowan’s injury change things for you?

“I hope he comes back as soon as possible. I’m just trying to go out there and make all the starts I have left and just compete still.”

Keeping emotions in check?

“Some of it going 2-0 in the count I was rushing a little bit but I was happy that I was able to keep my mechanics the way I wanted them after that to get back to an even count or have them swing and hit a ground ball.”

Climbing ladder with the fastball…

“Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. Today was one of those days that it did, I can’t remember if it was the Astros of the Pirates but tried to do it and I threw it right down the middle. To me, it’s a pitch I have to be careful with.”

What have you changed to be able to keep your composure more effectively…

“I think it was getting the experience and learning from it. Stepping back, breathing a little bit, trying to slow your heartrate down, it tends to help for me.”

What did Farrell say to you after you came off the mound?

“It was just really, great job, way to pitch out of the trouble. Way to keep your mechanics in check. Pretty much all of the stuff that I’ve been working on. We both thought it went good.”

Do you feel more in control of your mechanics?

“Sometimes I get out of it but that’s when you have to step off and remind yourself to stay back and all of that good stuff. Last year I ended up changing it up a few times which definitely couldn’t have helped. This year working on it everyday playing long toss and working on it in the ‘pen it seems to help out pretty good.”

What changed for you in the past during those situations on the mound?

“Sometimes heart rate gets up and I kind of want to rush it. I’ll start leaning forward and that’s when my arm has to catch up with my body. That’s when we’re trying to keep me back so everything’s in line.

“It’s more excitement. You just get excited and for me that’s why I have to step off and breathe a little bit. That’s why I have to slow my body down to where I can be where I need to be.”

The cutter…

“Barely using it this year. Last year I think I might have used it a bit too much and trying to make it move too much too which I think caused me to fall off to first base. Some times doing that and then trying to throw a four-seam I would do the exact same thing and that’s why I think I tended to be wild with my fastball.”

1 Comment

It’s a no-brainer to predict that Drabek will be breaking camp with the Jays since it’s pretty certain that McGowan will be starting the year on the DL. Laffey would be good as an insurance policy at AAA if that can be worked out, but it really is the time to give Drabek another shot at the Big Show. He’s proven he’s ready at Spring Training, especially the other night against the Sox.

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