Behind the Drills with David Aardsma

Feb 24, 2010, 4:20 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:51 pm

By Mike Salk

One of the fun things about covering spring training is getting to see how players prepare for the season. Whereas we might get to see a small sampling of drills that they do in the season, we have a much longer and clearer look at them in Arizona. Sometimes those drills look a little odd.

For instance, yesterday I spotted David Aardsma by himself in one of the bullpen cages. He was at the mound, but not standing on top of it. Instead, he was standing at the bottom of the mound, but facing away from the plate (towards the rubber). From that position, he simulated his delivery, and pretended to throw, but with his foot landing on the rubber – essentially throwing uphill.

So today I was able to get an explanation.

First of all, what he was doing is called “dry work.” Every pitcher does it on days when they aren’t pitching. They go through their delivery in slow motion without actually throwing the ball. And it helps them train their muscles to repeat the same delivery each time.

One of Aardsma’s challenges is to “stay on top of the ball.” That is to say, he needs to keep the ball lower in the zone. So by running through his motion at an uphill angle, he forces himself to concentrate on a downward plane by keeping the angle between himself and the ground lower.

He has other tricks for working on his release point (the exact spot in the delivery in which the pitcher lets the ball go). For optimum control, it’s important to keep that point as consistent as possible. Aardsma works on that during his daily catch sessions with throwing partner Brandon League. “[Flat ground throwing] is an easy way to concentrate on your release point,” he told me. “It allows you to repeat the same thing over and over and get it right without exerting a lot of effort.” That’s important when you are trying to get your work in throughout the season while still keeping your arm fresh for he long haul.

Other players use their dry work for finding a consistent spot for their front foot to land. Minor league invite David Pauley sometimes keeps a towel just to the right of where he wants his foot to land. He has a tendency to drift too far to the right (and throw across his body), so the towel helps him concentrate on staying straighter. By the way, that cross-body action isn’t all bad – many sinkerballers (like Pauley) throw across their bodies a little, but they don’t want it to get too far out of whack.

– – –

A couple of quick notes on pitchers:

Brandon League continues to impress. One catcher mentioned his effortless delivery, natural sink, and “nasty split-fingered fastball.” He’s an interesting guy – originally from Hawaii, he seems just odd enough to fit right in with this bullpen. But when he focuses, he has electric stuff which could really help this team get to the ninth.

-Everyone seems to be noticing right-hander Dan Cortes (the 22 year-old who came over from Kansas City in the Yuniesky Bettancourt trade). He’s 6’5” with an enormous wingspan that shortens the time for a hitter to pick up the ball. No accident that Special Assistant to the GM Tony Blengino and Rick Adair both mentioned him. Those who have caught him say his stuff is top notch.

-As for the battle for the fifth starter spot, both Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have drawn rave reviews for their quiet confidence. One teammate praised Fister for having “and air of confidence with excellent control of the game.” Of Vargas he said, “it’s sometimes harder to tell because he is pretty quiet, but he is really in control. He knows what he wants to do out there.” Both guys, he said, have good enough stuff to play in the big leagues.

-For more on the odd injury to a reliever and a note on Griffey’s missing glove, check out Shannon Drayer’s latest blog.

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