Phillies' Worley works to stay ahead of hitters

"I need to change everything up a little bit," said Phils pitcher Vance Worley, who has a few new weapons for this season.
"I need to change everything up a little bit," said Phils pitcher Vance Worley, who has a few new weapons for this season. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 25, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The pile of envelopes in Vance Worley's locker slowly disappeared Friday. One by one, Worley signed each baseball card with a blue sharpie and inscribed his number, 49, at the end of his name.

"See this one?" he said, pointing to a card. "Look at the gloss. It won't stick."

Fan mail comes in larger quantities now, just one adjustment for the 24-year-old righthander now firmly a member of the Phillies rotation. Last spring, Worley was sent to minor-league camp almost two weeks before opening day. By summer, a city was captivated by the bespectacled pitcher who hopped off the mound every time he recorded a strikeout.

"We rode the wave as long as we could," catcher Brian Schneider said. "It worked."

Worley made few changes as the season wore on because his success lasted even as hitters saw more of him. He doesn't expect the same luxury in 2012.

"I need to change everything up a little bit," Worley said. "Just enough to where I can still be me without telling them what I'm throwing."

By the end of the season, both Worley and Schneider noticed an unavoidable trend: Hitters started guessing correctly against Worley. Fewer times, opposing batters watched the sinker that froze so many who thought it was headed straight for their front hip only to come back across the inside edge of the plate for strike three. They fouled it off. Some put it in play.

The book was out: With two strikes, expect Worley to throw the sinker, usually inside. In 2011, 55 percent of Worley's strikeouts were looking. The major-league average was 24 percent, and only New York's Bartolo Colon had a higher percentage looking than Worley. In other words, Worley can expect more swings on two-strike counts if he keeps throwing the sinker the way he did last year.

Schneider, who emerged as Worley's personal catcher, said he's already sat down with Worley to formulate a plan of attack. They will use the late-spring Grapefruit League games to implement it. Schneider won't completely abandon the sinker. It's a devastating pitch - and Worley's best. But they can use it differently.

"We can throw it earlier in the count and not just wait for two strikes," Schneider said. "At the end of the year, we started setting the pitch up more by throwing one or two pitches away. Or maybe instead of throwing the sinker in there, we'd throw a four-seamer or a cutter in there and get them thinking."

Worley said he needs another pitch to keep hitters from catching up. He's toyed with a new change-up and started throwing the split change following a suggestion from Roy Halladay. That would be an ideal secondary pitch, Worley said. It has very similar movement to the sinker. It's just slower.

"I threw a few of those, and it had some good action," Worley said. "It's not quite like his."

Worley is already using Cole Hamels' cutter grip, and the pitch has replaced his slider. Worley's cutter acts much like a slider, and he threw it 21 percent of the time last season. He threw his change-up and curveball a combined 12 percent of the time, a number he expects will increase.

But more important will be how Worley uses the sinker. Schneider suggested that when he faces 0-2 and 1-2 counts, his first choice may not be the sinker. If they have to waste a pitch, so be it.

"We won't get away from what's working. But at the same time, let that pitch have a chance," Schneider said. "The only way that pitch is going to have a chance is if we throw a couple more pitches and set it up."

And Schneider is confident Worley has the acumen to make the second-year adjustments.

"He absolutely has the stuff," Schneider said. "There's no doubt about it."


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.

 

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