Publication date: 03-18-2006
Pitcher's transition is tricky
Relief tough on Standridge
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter
DUNEDIN, Fla. - Just when Jason Standridge thought he had cleared all the hurdles necessary in his conversion from starter to reliever, he got to spring training.
Having grown accustomed to building up his pitch count gradually over the course of February and March in previous seasons, Standridge has had yet another adjustment to make this spring. His work in games has been brief and scattered through different innings, and he hasn't quite gotten a feel for everything yet.
"This is the first year I've ever come into spring training as a reliever and not gotten the innings that as a starter I would get," said Standridge. "I'm trying to work with that, getting an inning at a time, but I've got to step it up, I've got to get consistent. I feel like it's coming."
The 27-year-old right-hander has had his share of struggles this spring. In five appearances spanning five innings, he has allowed nine hits, including three homers, and five runs. Opponents are batting .429 against him.
Those statistics don't concern the Reds as much as the tendencies that are causing Standridge to get lit up - mainly his problems with command. That's nothing new for Standridge, who has 55 walks and 56 strikeouts in 101 career major league innings. And it isn't just that he's leaving too many balls out of the strike zone, it's how and where he's missing with pitches within the zone.
"He's got to throw strikes, he's got to get ahead in the count, he's got to be able to move the ball around in the strike zone," said Reds manager Jerry Narron. "I think everybody knows they're going to get something hard from him. The big thing is that he uses his two-seam fastball, especially when he's behind in the count, more than he uses his four-seam fastball so he can get some movement. I think there's been times where he's been behind in the count and he tries to just throw a strike with his four-seamer, and when he's straight in the zone, he gets whacked."
Over the majority of a professional career that began in 1997, Standridge could absorb a whacking or two and still have a successful outing. It's a lot easier to pull that off when you're starting and pitching five, six or seven innings a game instead of one or less, and that's what Standridge always did.
Before the Reds signed him to a minor league deal last July following his release by the Rangers, 180 of Standridge's 201 professional appearances had been starts, including 171 of 178 in the minors. But he wasn't about to turn down a chance to pitch in the Reds' bullpen to stay in his comfort zone, and he ended up adapting well to relief duty.
"I always loved starting, that's what I liked to do," he said. "But Jerry put me in the bullpen and was using me a lot and I was having some success, and I'm starting to think, 'I like this.' I liked coming to the ballpark every day thinking I might pitch that day."
An added benefit of con- stantly being on call is that it's that much easier to wipe away the inevitable bad outings.
"I know that if I have a bad day today, possibly tomorrow I can get in and redeem myself," he said. "Even though you don't really think about those kinds of things when you're out there, you're trying to do everything you can to win the game - but from a personal standpoint it's a little bit easier to handle. As a starter, you have to wait five days to go back out there. If you don't do well, you have to sit on that and marinate on that for five days that you just got your butt kicked."
Standridge, who is out of minor league options, knows he can't afford too many more days like that this spring. Competition for the final spot or two in the bullpen is fierce, and since most of the competitors have similar track records in the majors, Grapefruit League performance could make a difference in the decision.
That's something Standridge can't afford to dwell on, he says.
"You have to have confidence in what you can do," he said. "If you don't have confidence in yourself, you have no business being out there. If you know you can go out there and get guys out, all the other stuff will take care of itself. You can't think about it."