"It's consistent, it's got bite, it's got a lot more depth," the 25-year-old righthander said.
While Herndon's strength will always be his heavy sinker, the Phillies selected him from the Angels in the Rule 5 draft in December 2009 and kept him on the active roster throughout the season because they thought he could add to his repertoire and develop into a key member of their bullpen. Two days ago, in a strong two-inning appearance against the Rays, the young reliever showed why the organization continues to think that way.
Although Herndon allowed a sharp RBI single to B.J. Upton, he retired five of the other six hitters while displaying solid command of both pitches. With two outs in the fourth inning, he started lefty Felipe Lopez with a sinker on the outside corner, then came back with a slider on the inside corner for a called second strike. Herndon then unleashed a nasty front-door sinker that blazed toward Lopez' front hip before fading back over the inside corner of the plate, leaving the veteran infielder frozen for a called third strike.
Facing Elliott Johnson in the fifth, Herndon threw a slider that the lefthanded hitter bunted foul, then a sinker for another foul, before throwing a front-door sinker that resulted in a called third strike similar to the one that felled Lopez.
"I think the adjustments I've made are more mental," Herndon said.
Take, for instance, the way he attacks hitters such as Johnson and Lopez. Last season, when Herndon posted a 4.30 ERA in 47 appearances, lefties hit .328 with a .484 slugging percentage against him. In 76 plate appearances by lefties, he issued nine walks while recording only five strikeouts. This year, he is determined to own more of the strike zone, including the inside part of the plate that reaped positive dividends against the Rays.
The maturation of his slider will help. In addition to setting up the punchouts of Lopez and Johnson, Herndon used the pitch to get two swing-and-misses from Upton before the righthanded hitter's RBI single to leftfield.
Of the 23 pitches he threw against the Rays, seven were sliders, five of which resulted in strikes.
"It's come a long way," said catcher Brian Schneider, who was behind the plate for Herndon's outing against Tampa Bay. "There is a lot more depth on it. It's more of a swing-and-miss pitch now."
Throughout his career, Herndon has pitched to contact, relying on the ground ball-inducing power of his sinker to record outs. But in 9 2/3 Grapefruit League innings this spring, he has fanned eight batters, a rate far greater than the 5.0 strikeouts-per-nine-innings he averaged last season and the 5.2 he averaged in four minor league seasons in the Angels' system.
"I'm always going to be a contact pitcher," Herndon said, "but in time, I will get more punchouts."
As far as time is concerned, Herndon has plenty of it. He had never pitched above Double A before last season, and, as long as relievers Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero and Danys Baez are healthy and effective, the Phillies do not need him to play a major role in their bullpen. Herndon still has a chance to make the Opening Day roster, but manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday righthander Kyle Kendrick is the "prime candidate" to open the season as the club's long man, leaving, at most, one open spot in the bullpen.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Phillies would elect to keep lefthander Antonio Bastardo to supplement Romero, allowing Herndon to continue his development in the minor leagues.
Whatever the case, the young reliever has stated his case this spring, and he appears to be a big part of the bullpen's future. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at