A little mechanical tweak goes a long way for Minor, Rangers
Not just anyone can regularly throw 100 mph, and fewer still can throw 100 mph while having some degrees of control.
There’s any small group of pitchers with 100-mph arms, those who can command the strike zone.
Chris Woodward has been around baseball enough to be suspicious anytime someone comes along with a 100 mph fastball, as right-hander Emmanuel Clase has the past 12 months in the Texas Rangers organization.
“That was the first question I asked: ‘Can he throw strikes?’” Woodward, the Rangers’ first-year manager said. “They said, ‘He throws too many strikes.’”
There is such a thing, and it’s easy to fix. It usually afflicts a young pitcher, who hasn’t yet learned the art of expanding the strike zone because he hasn’t faced hitters who can beat them him on his heater.
That’s a step that Clase has learned this season after hitting his first speed bump at Double A Frisco, a season that that started at Low A Hickory. He will continue to have the importance of doing that impressed upon him now that he’s a member of the Rangers’ bullpen.
Just as he climbed quickly through the system, Clase has a chance to quickly climb to the back of the bullpen. But how did it all come together for a pitcher who spent three seasons in the Dominican Summer League and was given away by the San Diego Padres in a trade for now-retired catcher Brett Nicholas?
Clase was on his way before the trade in the spring of 2018. He just needed a mechanical tweak and dolls placed on each side of home plate that he wasn’t allowed to plunk.
“Really it went up a lot, but last year is when my velocity went up,” Clase said. “I worked on that with my coaches, doing whatever I pitcher has to do, but also my mechanics helped me out to develop more velocity.”
The Rangers opened a nine-game, three-city road trip Monday night with a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians as Mike Minor tossed seven shutout innings.
On Sunday, Clase became the 12th Rangers player to make his MLB debut this season. He allowed only one walk in 1 2/3 innings and hit 101.1 mph, the fastest pitch by a Rangers pitcher this season.
But it wasn’t long ago, in 2017, when Clase’s fastball sat 93 to 95 mph instead of the 97 to 102 he has thrown this season.
One coach in particular, Jackson Quezada, help get Clase dialed in. Quezada, who in his eighth season as Padres pitching coach in the Dominican Summer League, created a the doll drill for Clase a few years ago.
That helped him develop his command, which he maintained as his velocity trended upward.
“My control was not as good in 2016 and 2017,” Clase said. “But when I was in spring training with Quezada and in the Dominican, he tested me. He put two little dolls on the side with a little space in the middle, and he told me, ‘Throw me five pitches in there.’ That’s how I got my control.”
It also takes focus, Clase said, and the Padres moved his hands in his delivery from is waste to his chest. His fastball comes with natural cut, and he also throws a slider to keep hitters honest.
He showed the form that convinced the Rangers to promote him Friday from Frisco. Clase blew through stints at Hickory and High A Down East, but stumbled a bit because he was in the strike zone too frequently at Frisco.
He tossed 12 1/3 scoreless innings over his final nine appearances and allowed only two runs in his final 26 innings dating to May 28. At 21 years, 139 days, Clase became the youngest Rangers pitcher to debut since Martin Perez at 21 years, 84 days in 2012.
Clase blew away the Detroit Tigers as well as the manager who wondered if he threw strikes. The more of that Clase shows, the later he will pitch in games.
“I had to go back and look at the video today,” Woodward said. “He can put it where he wants to. It’s not just rear back and throw it down the middle. It’s a pretty special arm, and I feel like this kid has no fear. That’s probably what’s impressed me most.”