Delivery makeover helped Gloucester Catholic's Greg Burke return to the majors

A makeover of his delivery helped Medford resident Greg Burke make his way back to the majors.          MARC S. LEVINE
A makeover of his delivery helped Medford resident Greg Burke make his way back to the majors.          MARC S. LEVINE
Posted: April 09, 2013

NEW YORK - Who would have thought that dropping his arm would prop up the baseball career of righthanded relief pitcher Greg Burke?

A 2000 graduate of Gloucester Catholic High, Burke spent part of the 2009 season with the San Diego Padres, going 3-3 with a 4.14 ERA in 48 appearances. But after that, he was hit hard the next two seasons in triple A.

So Burke, with nothing to lose, became a submariner, and that style of pitching has carried him back to the majors. He made the New York Mets roster out of spring training and will return home when the Mets play three games beginning Monday against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

"The last day of spring training when [Mets manager Terry Collins] brought me in and said I made the team, it was an awesome feeling," Burke said after Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Padres at Citi Field.

"I was getting older, throwing 90 m.p.h., and everybody does that. I needed to do something extreme," the 30-year-old said.

That's also the way to describe Burke's new pitches, which have a much different movement than with his previous style.

"It's a funky, weird arm angle, and the way his body moves is very deceptive," Mets catcher John Buck said. "I still have to lock in when I catch him."

Burke gives much credit for his resurgence to Rick Peterson, the Baltimore Orioles director of pitching development and a former pitching coach with the A's, Mets, and Brewers. Jim Ulrich, Burke's agent, shared a mutual friend with Peterson, and a meeting was arranged in November 2011 in Cherry Hill.

Peterson is known for his high-tech methods of training pitchers. He is a founder of 3P Sports, a company that analyzes pitchers' motions through biomechanical analysis, using high-speed cameras and computers.

In 2012, Burke received a minor-league invitation to spring training from the Orioles, but he didn't earn an offer to stay at the conclusion. So he told Peterson he was thinking of using a submarine motion, and the two worked out before Burke was to return home to Medford, where he lives with his wife, Megan, also a Gloucester Catholic graduate, and 18-month-old son, C.J.

"He was 20 pitches into [the workout], and I said, 'You have got to be kidding me,' " Peterson said. "He was throwing 91, 92 m.p.h., and I never saw somebody throw as hard at that angle."

After Peterson helped Burke refine the submarine technique, the Orioles gave Burke another look.

"He was going to get on a plane to New Jersey and instead now had a ticket eventually to the big leagues," Peterson said.

Burke was dominating for double-A Bowie and triple-A Norfolk last year, posting an identical 1.53 ERA for both teams. At the end of the season, he was a free agent who didn't lack offers.

"He was the first guy we tried to sign, because of the ground-ball factor in Coors Field," said Colorado Rockies scout Will George, a Pennsauken High graduate who has known Burke since before Burke was a teenager.

"He is a great kid who has persevered, and that tells you a lot about what is inside him."

A 2005 graduate of Duke, Burke began his career in independent baseball with the now defunct Atlantic City Surf.

"It has been really tough for me, and I didn't think I would get back [to the majors], which is why I made the change," Burke said.

"When you get here, it is worth every minor-league bus ride and hotel, and it's just a great feeling."

Contact Marc Narducci at Follow on Twitter @sjnard.

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