A Conversation about Pitching, Delivery Repetition and Struggling with George Sherrill

Suffice to say George Sherrill has had a tough season in 2010. After his commanding 2009 performance, the man has worked perilously this year, seeing his ERA skyrocket to new heights (7.00 as of today). His FIP and xFIP are at 5.44 and 5.77. His BABIP is incredibly high (though it should be, since he wasn’t fooling anybody earlier this season) and his BB/9 is above 5.

However, he’s seen improvement the last few weeks: 5.1 innings pitched, 3 Ks, 0 BB. He gave up only 5 hits to 21 batters. Of the three runs he’s given up in that time, two of them were allowed by Octavio Dotel last night with two outs.

Anyway, let’s get down to business. I talked with Sherrill about his struggles this year and his most recent success, even if it’s in such a small sample size. Here’s the conversation.

Dingers: You’ve gotten 12 of your last 16 batters out, is there something that’s working for you now that wasn’t working earlier?

George Sherrill: Yeah. Something was wrong and we pin-pointed what was wrong. It’s just a matter of correcting it and being able to repeat it. There were some bad habits and now I’m working on good habits.

It’s a start. We got some ways to go before I start feeling comfortable. I want to get to a point where I’m not thinking about what I have to do and it’ll just happen. It’s getting there.

What was the problem?

The first thing was when I lifted my leg, my plant heel would slide. It was throwing my line off. The most important thing, though, was making my hands going instead of carrying them with me. Everything was coming out flat instead of having a downward plane to it. Getting that one fixed gets everything in line. It allows me to throw strikes–good strikes.

Earlier, [I was] trying to fix everything and whatever I was fixing, something else would go wrong or whatever fix was like a band-aid–it only worked for a day or two. I couldn’t throw strikes and I was trying to figure out what was happening. FInally, it came down to something simple. Both of these things are just something I can’t feel it happen. With me, if it’s something that’s gradual, I can’t feel it. Usually, I figure out what it is in spring training. [Rick Honeycutt and I] work together and he gives me the feel; what I need to do to do it right.

This year, it was the hands thing. I needed to get my hands started quick enough. I never felt like that was the issue and it turns out it was.

There was a rumor kicked around that you were tinkering with your mechanics in spring training, is that true?

I’ve been tinkering with them all year.

Well, more like this year’s mechanics versus last year

You know, last year, I had [my mechanics] figured out toward the end of spring training with Baltimore. Nothing seemed to go wrong last year until late. Usually it’s somewhere toward the middle of the year, I correct it, and then I’m fine for the rest of the year.

Last year, it happened late. I didn’t feel it until the playoffs in the Phillies series. For some reason, I couldn’t find the plate. This year, I started playing catch in the off-season. Like I said, it felt fine. I was throwing at this tarp thing and I was hitting the [zone in the tarp]. I guess something changed. And like I said, it was gradual, and when it’s gradual, I can’t feel it happening. It’s hard to correct something you don’t feel going wrong.

What it is is small, but it turned out to be huge.

You talked about how fixing the problem is a matter of repeating it. Is it difficult to repeat a fix when you’re on the mound? Is it like when you’re breathing automatically and someone reminds you you’re breathing and you forget how to breathe correctly?

I’m getting to the point where [it’s like breathing automatically]. It’s close. Everything seems to be going, but until I get to where I can get out of the chair and start hitting the mitt from throw one, I still have to focus on getting everything going.

First off, the way my mechanics were, I had to open up to be able to throw a ball with accuracy. When I opened up, [the batters] could see it and could track the pitch longer. On top of that, with my mechanics being off and my hands have to catch up, I have to open up. That flattens the ball out so now the ball’s up [in the zone].

By opening up, you mean you’re showing your body to the batter before you release the ball?

I’m flying open. If everything’s going right, I’m going this way [Sherrill, at this point, pantomimes his motion. He shows his arm cocked and his shoulders pointing toward an invisible home plate]. The ball’s hidden until the last moment. If that’s not happening, if I’m flying open, they can see it quicker. That kinda hides it and it’s my natural arm movement. Things start coming downward more than flat.

Like I said, everything is getting there. It feels a lot better. Just need to start doing it consistently.

Feels pretty good to go out tonight and get three outs, no?

Yeah, but the team lost. Doesn’t really matter how I did.

Personally, if it gives [the coaches] more confidence to bring me in with a lead, that’s fine with me. Whatever the team needs, I’m willing to do. If they need me to throw when we’re down, I will.

Mr. Sherrill, thank you.

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