Wagner eyes a bounceback year
Retooled delivery has him optimistic
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
SARASOTA, Fla. - Ryan Wagner wasn't asked if he had one word to sum up his 2005 season, but that was all he needed.
"Disappointing," the young reliever said Friday.
From the pummeling he took on the mound in the first half to the frustration of sitting out the entire second half of the season with a sore shoulder, Wagner didn't have much fun last year.
He went 3-2 with a 6.11 ERA in 42 relief appearances, with opponents hitting .303 against him, before being shut down at the All-Star break. Toward the end of the season, he insisted he felt healthy and was itching to get back on the mound, but the Reds wanted to make sure his shoulder was fully healed and Wagner had time to work through some mechanical changes in a less pressurized environment.
A quick stint in the Instructional League was all Wagner needed to see that the changes he and pitching coach Vern Ruhle had made in his delivery had paid off.
"Vern worked out what I needed to change, pitching mechanics-wise, and now I feel healthy, I'm not getting sore," said Wagner. "Everything has gone extremely smooth."
He doesn't just mean the transition; the same could be said about his throwing motion. Wagner's delivery was rather violent, but Ruhle has worked with him on keeping a consistent arm angle and having a better idea where the ball is going.
Now, at the ripe old age of 23 and beginning his fourth season of professional baseball, Wagner has a much firmer grasp of how to pitch than he ever has. He reported to camp early and already has thrown a few side sessions under Ruhle's watch.
"He's throwing very well right now," Ruhle said.
One of Ruhle's points of emphasis for the reliever has been focusing on pitch combinations rather than just each individual pitch. With Wagner mixing in his changeup and cutter here and there and the slider that helped entice the Reds to spend a first-round draft pick on him coming back, he could regain the "closer-of-the-future" tag before too long.
"Ryan Wagner has a great sinker, a great slider," said manager Jerry Narron. "It's just a matter of when he's going to put it together."
Wagner's demeanor suggests this might be the year. Two years ago, not far removed from his sophomore year at the University of Houston, Wagner spoke openly about his desire to close games for the Reds in the near future.
With a bounceback season, Wagner could position himself to slide into that role later in the year or down the road, but he didn't mention that possibility Friday. Without being asked specifically about the closer's job, Wagner said he would be happy to pitch anywhere, "whether it's in the fourth inning or the eighth inning," if it would help the team win.
He said no one has told him what his role might be, but even if they did he wouldn't alter his new approach in an effort to hone in on a particular job.
"Whether all the jobs are taken or they're all open, you've got to go out there and pitch your game," he said. "It's completely out of my control besides how I do."