Avendano Handling Every Challenge

VANCOUVER, CA - Vancouver Canadians right-hander Javier Avendano is quietly putting together one of the best seasons across the Toronto Blue Jays farm system. Acquired during the offseason from the St. Louis Cardinals through the Rule 5 draft, the Venezuelan pitcher has proven to be a worthy pick-up.

Splitting the season between Lansing and Vancouver, Avendano has shown he can be equally effective starting or coming out of the bullpen.

As a starter, he's been awarded the Northwest League pitcher of the week three times this season, leads the league in ERA and strikeouts and he revels pitching in the raucous atmosphere of Nat Bailey Stadium, endorsed by a 0.43 ERA at home.

"I love playing in this ballpark because [many] people come to this stadium, it's great here. Our fans make a lot of noise," Avendano said. "It's more adrenaline when you pitch because everybody is looking, everybody is seeing what you do and I just do my job [to] make the people happy in the stadium."

Avendano is pleasing not only the fans but more importantly his coaches. The soon to be twenty-two year old has allowed ten runs in seventy-three innings, an ERA of 1.23, as a starter with the Canadians. Of all of the positives he's demonstrated this season it's his ability to command his fastball down and away that most impresses Canadians pitching coach Jim Czajkowski.

"That is something that if you can do, you can get ahead of guys," Czajkowski said. "The big powerful guys, if they're trying to pull it, he has enough on his fastball that he can get them to roll over it; they're just not looking to go the other way. He gets ahead really quick and from there he has pitches to put guys away."

Prior to joining the Canadians at the beginning of their season in mid-June, Avendano was used as a reliever Lansing and he excelled. In thirty and one third innings he gave up just five earned runs for an ERA of 1.48 and struck out thirty-nine.

"I threw in Lansing as a reliever for situations and I did my job real good and people wanted to me start games. I think that is a great opportunity too and on a different level it's not too much," Avendano said.

"I feel good relieving but I feel better starting games – maybe it's because you got more responsibility and you throw more innings. For me it's the same, it's pitching but I like to start. In Spring Training I threw a couple games as a starter, and after that as a reliever."

While Avendano was dominant in relief, Czajkowski confirmed that the plan was always to find an opportunity for him to start.

"He started last year when he was with the St. Louis organization [and] we projected him as a starter," Czajkowski said. Because he did such a good job in Spring Training it would have been a shame not to let him go up to Lansing and see those good ballplayers and if something opened up starting wise then he might have filled that role then, but they had such a good starting staff and they pitched well all year long so there just hasn't been any room for him.

"At the half we made the switch to here. Now he's going to get some more innings and stretch out and hopefully by the end of the year he'll meet his quota of how many innings we want him to have and next year he hopefully moves back into that rotation or I could see him pitching in relief in Dunedin because his stuff is that good."

The biggest difference for Avendano between his numbers in Lansing and Vancouver has been the improvement with walks. He lowered his walks per nine from 5.34 BB/9 with the Lugnuts to a respectable 2.78 BB/9 with the Canadians while maintaining a similar strikeout rate. Avendano credits working with Czajkowski as the main reason for the progress.

"I think to stay closer in my mechanics that's helped me with the walks – I don't throw as many walks right now," Avendano said.

Czajkowski has implemented a bullpen routine to help Avendano stay on a straight line and prevent him from throwing across his body.

"We've drawn a line in our bullpens and he stays on that line and doesn't cross it. He tries to stay on it at all times and sometimes you'll see him on the mound where he's pulling off his pitches he'll step back and he'll start waiving his hands – stay directional, stay directional," Czajkowski said. "As long as he stays on his line towards the plate he's usually having pretty good results."

Another area of focus has been working on his changeup. It's a pitch that is valued greatly by Czajkowski and the Blue Jays organization and its importance is stressed to all pitchers in the system.

"Sometimes when I throw the changeup I'm lazy with the mechanics," Avendano said. "I try to do good now in that and that's helped me because in the last game my changeup is better."

It's a common concern for developing pitchers that don't have complete confidence in their changeup.

"Sometimes guys like to see that changeup move so they stand upright and they throw it nice and slow and see all that movement and love it but really the changeup for a hitter, he wants to see a guy slow up so he knows something other than a fastball is coming," Czajkowski explained.

"It's really important that he finishes it and trusts it and throws it like a fastball, and keeps that arm speed going and let the ball change because of the grip not because of the arm speed."

The next step for Avendano is to improve his curveball. Czajkowski has been actively getting him to throw it on a more regular basis.

"We try to sharpen up or speed up his curveball. Sometimes it's really lazy at times, meaning that the break of it is slow. I would like to see him have a little more power behind it and sometimes he pulls down on a good one but really the command of his fastball sets him up," Czajkowski continued.

"He's had a really good mix of pitches [but] there's been times where he doesn't throw enough offspeed pitches. We're trying to address that and make sure he's throwing enough so he gets used to throwing them, so later in his career it's not a big transition for him when he's going to have to throw some more offspeed."

In his first season with the Blue Jays organization Avendano has handled all challenges thrown his way but it's what he's learned and accomplished under the watchful eye of Czajkowski that will have more of an impact on his future.

"I work a lot with him, he gives you confidence," Avendano concluded. "He likes to work with the players and that's good. He's a great pitching coach."


Future Jays Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nSplitting the season between Lansing and Vancouver, Avendano has shown he can be equally effective starting or coming out of the bullpen.
\r\n
\r\nAs a starter, he's been awarded the Northwest League pitcher of the week three times this season, leads the league in ERA and strikeouts and he revels pitching in the raucous atmosphere of Nat Bailey Stadium, endorsed by a 0.43 ERA at home.
\r\n
\r\n\"I love playing in this ballpark because [many] people come to this stadium, it's great here. Our fans make a lot of noise,\" Avendano said. \"It's more adrenaline when you pitch because everybody is looking, everybody is seeing what you do and I just do my job [to] make the people happy in the stadium.\"
\r\n
\r\nAvendano is pleasing not only the fans but more importantly his coaches. The soon to be twenty-two year old has allowed ten runs in seventy-three innings, an ERA of 1.23, as a starter with the Canadians. Of all of the positives he's demonstrated this season it's his ability to command his fastball down and away that most impresses Canadians pitching coach Jim Czajkowski.
\r\n
\r\n\"That is something that if you can do, you can get ahead of guys,\" Czajkowski said. \"The big powerful guys, if they're trying to pull it, he has enough on his fastball that he can get them to roll over it; they're just not looking to go the other way. He gets ahead really quick and from there he has pitches to put guys away.\"
\r\n
\r\nPrior to joining the Canadians at the beginning of their season in mid-June, Avendano was used as a reliever Lansing and he excelled. In thirty and one third innings he gave up just five earned runs for an ERA of 1.48 and struck out thirty-nine.
\r\n
\r\n\"I threw in Lansing as a reliever for situations and I did my job real good and people wanted to me start games. I think that is a great opportunity too and on a different level it's not too much,\" Avendano said.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel good relieving but I feel better starting games – maybe it's because you got more responsibility and you throw more innings. For me it's the same, it's pitching but I like to start. In Spring Training I threw a couple games as a starter, and after that as a reliever.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile Avendano was dominant in relief, Czajkowski confirmed that the plan was always to find an opportunity for him to start.
\r\n
\r\n\"He started last year when he was with the St. Louis organization [and] we projected him as a starter,\" Czajkowski said. Because he did such a good job in Spring Training it would have been a shame not to let him go up to Lansing and see those good ballplayers and if something opened up starting wise then he might have filled that role then, but they had such a good starting staff and they pitched well all year long so there just hasn't been any room for him.
\r\n
\r\n\"At the half we made the switch to here. Now he's going to get some more innings and stretch out and hopefully by the end of the year he'll meet his quota of how many innings we want him to have and next year he hopefully moves back into that rotation or I could see him pitching in relief in Dunedin because his stuff is that good.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe biggest difference for Avendano between his numbers in Lansing and Vancouver has been the improvement with walks. He lowered his walks per nine from 5.34 BB/9 with the Lugnuts to a respectable 2.78 BB/9 with the Canadians while maintaining a similar strikeout rate. Avendano credits working with Czajkowski as the main reason for the progress.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think to stay closer in my mechanics that's helped me with the walks – I don't throw as many walks right now,\" Avendano said.
\r\n
\r\nCzajkowski has implemented a bullpen routine to help Avendano stay on a straight line and prevent him from throwing across his body.
\r\n
\r\n\"We've drawn a line in our bullpens and he stays on that line and doesn't cross it. He tries to stay on it at all times and sometimes you'll see him on the mound where he's pulling off his pitches he'll step back and he'll start waiving his hands – stay directional, stay directional,\" Czajkowski said. \"As long as he stays on his line towards the plate he's usually having pretty good results.\"
\r\n
\r\nAnother area of focus has been working on his changeup. It's a pitch that is valued greatly by Czajkowski and the Blue Jays organization and its importance is stressed to all pitchers in the system.
\r\n
\r\n\"Sometimes when I throw the changeup I'm lazy with the mechanics,\" Avendano said. \"I try to do good now in that and that's helped me because in the last game my changeup is better.\"
\r\n
\r\nIt's a common concern for developing pitchers that don't have complete confidence in their changeup.
\r\n
\r\n\"Sometimes guys like to see that changeup move so they stand upright and they throw it nice and slow and see all that movement and love it but really the changeup for a hitter, he wants to see a guy slow up so he knows something other than a fastball is coming,\" Czajkowski explained.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's really important that he finishes it and trusts it and throws it like a fastball, and keeps that arm speed going and let the ball change because of the grip not because of the arm speed.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe next step for Avendano is to improve his curveball. Czajkowski has been actively getting him to throw it on a more regular basis.
\r\n
\r\n\"We try to sharpen up or speed up his curveball. Sometimes it's really lazy at times, meaning that the break of it is slow. I would like to see him have a little more power behind it and sometimes he pulls down on a good one but really the command of his fastball sets him up,\" Czajkowski continued.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's had a really good mix of pitches [but] there's been times where he doesn't throw enough offspeed pitches. We're trying to address that and make sure he's throwing enough so he gets used to throwing them, so later in his career it's not a big transition for him when he's going to have to throw some more offspeed.\"
\r\n
\r\nIn his first season with the Blue Jays organization Avendano has handled all challenges thrown his way but it's what he's learned and accomplished under the watchful eye of Czajkowski that will have more of an impact on his future.
\r\n
\r\n\"I work a lot with him, he gives you confidence,\" Avendano concluded. \"He likes to work with the players and that's good. He's a great pitching coach.\"
\r\n
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