SURPRISE, Ariz. — Lefty reliever Donnie Joseph was just a few pitches into his first spring bullpen workout when the reason for his frustrating command issues became apparent to Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Joseph was slow to pull his hand out of his glove while the lower half of his body moved toward the plate.
The result was his arm dragged in his delivery, a problem that Joseph exacerbated by pausing his arm -- a hitch -- before gathering himself again to throw the ball.
Eiland went to work.
“We immediately started working on getting my arm out quicker,” Joseph said. “I think that’s what caused me to walk some people. I had a tendency to let my arm drive. My arm gets behind.”
Eiland also altered Joseph’s balance over the rubber and eliminated the hitch. It was, pretty much, a complete overhaul -- similar to Eiland’s reconstruction a year earlier on another lefty reliever: Tim Collins.
Joseph was receptive.
He wasn’t just a guy who had never thrown an inning in the majors getting instruction from a big-league pitching coach; he was a guy who had averaged nearly four walks per nine innings in four pro seasons.
“That’s always been the thing on me,” Joseph said, “ever since I was drafted, is I walk guys. And especially since I’m a one- or two-inning guy, one walk can end the game.
“That’s the first thing they noticed, and the first thing we’ve been working on. I feel like it’s helped. It’s really all that I think about when I’m out there. It’s just a slight adjustment, but I feel like it’s made a lot of difference.”
Joseph, 25, hasn’t walked a batter in seven one-inning appearances while yielding just one run and three hits. Plus, the new approach seems only to have enhanced an already-nasty slider that stamps him as a strikeout pitcher.
“We did those three things,” Eiland said, “and now, obviously, he’s in the zone. He’s throwing strikes, but there are still some things we’re doing. To his credit, he’s really worked hard, taken to it and made the adjustments.
“We’re still a work in progress, but he’s improving every time he gets on the mound.”
Joseph is positioned, with his strong spring, among a handful of candidates for the final spot in the bullpen. If the club opts for a situational lefty, a likely preference, the decision could be either Joseph or Francisley Bueno.
“I can’t worry about it,” Joseph said. “If I go out there every day asking myself, `Am I going to make the team? Where am I going to be?’ then it’s going to affect the way I throw.
“Each day, I just tell myself, `OK, just try to do your job. Get three outs as quickly as possible.’ Every game after I’ve pitched, in the dugout I’ll tell myself: This outing is over with. Let’s focus on the next one.’
“That’s just the mentality I have, and wherever God places me this year is where I’m supposed to be.”
The Royals acquired Joseph with pitcher J.C. Sulbaran, a pair of promising arms, from Cincinnati last year at the July 31 trading deadline for veteran closer Jonathan Broxton.
Sulbaran, 23, was cited a year ago by Baseball America as having the best curveball in the Cincinnati system. He is currently working his way back from a forearm injury that surfaced in the Arizona Fall League.
The Reds chose Joseph as their minor-league pitcher of the year in 2010, and he was 8-3 with 18 saves and a 1.72 ERA last season in 44 games at the time of the trade -- with 68 strikeouts in 521/3 innings.
“He’s got great stuff,” manager Ned Yost said. “At times, I’d heard his command can get a little all over the place, but he has not exhibited that here in these games. You never know when it’s going to click.
“(Reds manager) Dusty Baker told me numerous times, every time I see him, `I didn’t want to get rid of Donnie Joseph.’ You know, Dusty, I didn’t want to get rid of Broxton, either.”
Joseph is trying his best this spring to keep it simple; to look no further than building on Eiland’s lessons; to concentrate on making his new routine second nature.
Do that, he believes, and everything else will take care of itself.
“Even when I just go out and play catch,” Joseph said, “I’m conscious of it. I keep trying to remind myself to do it. I think, through time, it’s only going to get better and better.
“The thing is that now I realize what that feels like, the other way feels so much worse. It feels a lot more comfortable right now. I feel more in control of myself now that I’m more out in front (in his delivery).
“It’s strange. I never felt I was so behind. But now that we’ve made the adjustment, I feel so much better. I feel so much more in command of my pitches.”
To reach Bob Dutton, send email to email@example.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.