O'Day drops knowledge on fellow sidearmers
Hendrickson, Russell lower delivery in search for role in Orioles bullpen
SARASOTA, Fla. -- While Orioles sidearmer Darren O'Day threw a bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon, Mark Hendrickson and Adam Russell stood behind the fence, watching and bouncing ideas off of each other and bullpen coach Billy Castro.
The Orioles have three sidearmers in camp, and O'Day -- a self-taught sidearmer after being cut from his college baseball team as a freshman -- is a mentor of sorts while Russell and Hendrickson get comfortable with different arm angles.
"They took a chance on me," O'Day said of the Orioles, who acquired him last winter on a waiver claim and recently signed him to a two-year contract with a club option for 2015. "It's obvious they care more about results than how you get them. You don't have to throw 98 [mph], most big league bullpens are stocked with guys who throw 98."
The 30-year-old O'Day went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA last season, setting career highs in wins, innings (67) and strikeouts (69) and stranding 37 of 43 inherited runners, the third-best mark in the American League. He's the first to admit it's been a lot of trial and error, and O'Day has given other relievers, including Yankees righty Cody Eppley, advice along the way.
"Darren is very sharing," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "And it's different. You can't just [have] everybody cloned. They're looking at little things, like head angle. People make mistakes thinking your body is what dictates your arm angle, where your bend is. There are so many little things. You don't just take a guy and say, 'Start throwing sidearm. Or underneath.' There's a lot of factors to it."
Russell lowered his arm several years ago and picked it back up after the Angels picked him up the last month of last season. When he signed with the Orioles, they told him he could do whatever delivery he felt worked best, which hasn't always been the case considering Russell's large stature (6-foot-8) and baseball's infatuation with power pitchers.
"It's something I want to stick with, it sets me apart from everybody else, the ability to throw hard from down there," said Russell, who was told to shelve his sidearm delivery for a traditional one while with the Padres in 2009-10.
"Sometimes I feel a little scarier from the side. I know from what I've [heard] from guys, it's uncomfortable for them because I look like a guy that's stepping right at you. Instead of stepping at the glove, I'm stepping right at the hitter. So, I think there's that moment of, 'Is this guy going to throw it at me?'"
Hendrickson is also an unconventional sidearmer, having thrown overhand throughout his 10-year Major League career. The 6-foot-9 lefty is trying to reinvent himself and his first call this winter was to Showalter.
"Some teams ... if you don't throw 95 you don't make their bullpen," Hendrickson said. "The way Buck thinks, he's not afraid to think outside the box. And I think if you talk to hitters, if you go through the course of a game, now all of a sudden you are getting different looks for hitters. Sometimes that's all you need for that one at-bat you are going to face them. So I think it's just looking at each guy and what they bring to the table, and obviously seeing if they can help your ballclub. It just depends on the organizational thinking and the manager, too."
Hendrickson, who is the newest to the sidearm delivery, said the biggest thing for him right now is to get game experience -- although watching O'Day work in his offseason and bouncing ideas off the other guys certainly doesn't hurt.
"What I'm finding is most of it for me is feel," he said. "But just to watch somebody else do it is helpful."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.