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Mariners’ Sheffield on how a ‘reset’ at Double-A led to surge in confidence

Apr 4, 2020, 11:15 AM | Updated: 11:25 am
Mariners LHP Justus Sheffield...
Mariners LHP Justus Sheffield pitched very well at spring training this year. (Getty)

In one of the first trades of the Mariners’ rebuild between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Seattle acquired well-regarded left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield from the New York Yankees along with two other prospects in exchange for starting pitcher James Paxton.

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Sheffield was a first-round pick by the Cleveland Indians in the 2014 draft and has been on the “prospect scene” for quite a while despite being just 23 years old.

His first season with the Mariners organization got off to a rocky start as he started the year in Triple-A Tacoma where he had a 6.87 ERA in 55 innings while striking out 48 and walking 41.

“I just kind of got off on the wrong foot, went up to the big leagues for a little bit then got sent back down and I just really couldn’t find it and it just started snowballing from there and mentally it started working me,” Sheffield told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore. “I tried to do a little too much, was working too hard because the big league was right there, I was so close and that kind of played against me.”

Sheffield was demoted to Double-A Arkansas where he pulled a 180 and was one of the league’s best pitchers, recording a 2.18 ERA while striking out 85 and walking 18 in 78 innings. He found his command and earned a late season promotion to the big league club.

“It was just one of those things where I could take a breath and step back and reset,” he said. “When I went down there, it was a good group to get along with and mesh in with and we were winning a lot of games, so it was a lot of fun to go down there and go play with a number of those guys who are going to be in the big leagues. It was definitely a negative situation for me, but a positive outcome.”

Sheffield carried that success over to spring training this year, where he was one of the team’s best pitchers. Already penciled in to the Mariners’ starting rotation, Sheffield arrived to camp more confident according to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and the results backed that up, recording a 2.25 ERA 8 innings, striking out 12 and, most impressively after his struggles in 2019, he walked no batters.

“I think it was just getting the reps last year. Getting up there and getting those starts under my belt,” Sheffield said regarding his confidence at spring training this year. “I’ve been to big league camp three or four times, so it was kind of one of those things where I’ve been there and done that and it was one of those things where I just wanted to get out there and execute and get my work done and I felt really good out there.”

Part of that success, at least in his last start, was the change from a four-seam fastball to a two-seam fastball. That change came from Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth, who was Sheffield’s pitching coach at Double-A last year.

“He actually brought it to my attention one day in my throwing program,” Sheffield said. “I’m not really (big) into the data, I guess you could say. I’m more go out there and be aggressive and get outs, but I’m definitely learning to put that ‘new school’ baseball into it with the data and things like that. So he brought it to my attention that I had a low spin rate on my four-seams, so why not throw a (two-seam fastball) and get more sink on it?”

You can read more about his “fastball breakthrough” in this story by ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer, along with quotes from Woodworth and Mariners catcher Tom Murphy.

Unfortunately for Sheffield, his spring success got cut short as MLB had to close shop due to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and the world. There’s no timetable for when the season will resume, so Sheffield is working hard to prepare for whenever he is told that baseball is back.

“I’m staying physically ready,” he said. “I’m still throwing off the mound a little bit. I’m just trying to stay ready for whenever that call does come. As far as how long it will take, I have no clue. It’s the first time I’ve been through anything like this other than the normal three-week spring training before going into the season.”

You can listen to Sheffield’s full conversation with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore at this link or in the player below at the 24:47 mark.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore on Twitter.

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