It was a curious sight.
Just one year after overpowering hitters in his first stint in the majors, reliever Matt Strahm could not throw strikes.
He issued six walks, including two intentional base on balls, in his first 1 1/3 innings. He allowed seven earned runs. He earned a demotion to Class AAA Omaha after just three appearances.
For a talented pitcher expected to serve as one of the Royals’ primary setup men for closer Kelvin Herrera, it was a bizarre start. Something had to be up, right?
In fact, we may have our answer. The day after Strahm walked in the winning run in an extra-innings loss in Houston, he returned to Kauffman Stadium for the home opener. Before the game, he trudged out to the bullpen, throwing a side session with pitching coach Dave Eiland, who had detected a hitch in his delivery from the stretch.
Strahm was tapping his glove with the ball while he delivered pitches to home plate. The slight tap was causing his arm to lag — it wasn’t getting out of the glove quick enough — and his front side to fly open. The result was a pitcher who could not get his fastball down in the zone.
“It was something I wanted to get fixed and get fixed quick,” said Strahm, who was recalled from Omaha on Friday afternoon.
Even to the untrained eye, the glove tap was noticeable. In his final appearance before being sent down, Strahm walked the final two hitters in a 5-4 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park. With runners on second and third, he had two chances to get out of the inning. But first, he lost Brian McCann on a 3-2 pitch. Here’s a look at the glove tap:
Moments later, Strahm walked Evan Gattis on another 3-2 pitch. All inning, his pitches were high. Once again, you can see the glove tap, which was pretty consistent during his first three appearances. According to Strahm, he had a similar hitch last season. But it was less pronounced.
“It was a small one,” Strahm said. “This year, it was a huge one.”
When Strahm returned to Kansas City on April 10, Eiland offered a message during that bullpen session. He could keep the glove tap, but it had to be quicker — and while he was still over the rubber. Strahm opted to ditch it entirely.
“When I got down to Omaha, I just threw it out the window,” Strahm said.
In four appearances, Strahm threw five scoreless innings. More important: He struck out seven while not issuing a single walk. When he returned to the mound in Texas on Friday, the glove tap was gone.
Strahm’s first outing back lasted just a few pitches. He got one out in the fifth inning in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers. But his mechanics appeared smoother, and it served as another confidence booster. The Royals are hopeful that Strahm can become an important piece at the back end of the bullpen. Strahm is hopeful his command issues are behind him.