17. Has Joey Devine recovered?

Bill Shanks has an interview with Joey Devine and then talks about his chances to contribute in 2007.

Before we talk about Joey Devine's future as an Atlanta Brave, here's an interview I did with Joey in mid-September.

SHANKS: Let me ask you about the injury. When did you first start feeling pain in your back?
DEVINE: It was toward the second or third week of March, almost toward the end of Spring Training. It was just one of those things where I was scheduled to throw two innings against St. Louis down in Jupiter and after the first inning I had to come out of the game just because I couldn't go out there for the second. My lower back just tightened up the size of a softball in the lower left side of my back. So it was just one of those things where I thought it was a muscle spasm, and we treated it with some ice. My next outing it reoccurred. From that point on I continued to try and throw through it and it just got worse as I kept trying.

SHANKS: Did you feel you'd be able to pitch through it or did you know you would have to be shut down?
DEVINE: I thought at first I'd be able to, but that last outing in spring training, against the Nationals, before we headed up here to play the White Sox in those exhibition games, I pitched and was supposed to throw two innings again as well. I knew from that point on that there was something wrong and there was no chance I'd be able to throw through it just because for a pitcher the back is one of those vital things that you need in order to have everything go right.

SHANKS: Now is your delivery the cause of it?
DEVINE: No I think it was just one of those things where it was a fluke injury. I've been throwing this way all through college and never had any problems in college with my back or legs. Everything was fine. It was just a fluke injury.

SHANKS: I know you and Bill Fischer did some work down in Orlando. Was that to try and simply strengthen your back so the delivery would not hurt the back even more?
DEVINE: Yeah we did some. He wanted me to get out in front of my pitch and on my toe instead of back on my heel and not having such a violent stride to home plate. He just wanted me to quiet everything in my lower half. We worked down there and then I got the opportunity after I was feeling good to get some innings in for Myrtle Beach and throwing to rebuild my arm strength. Then I got a chance to go to Mississippi and work with Kent Willis, and that was really a miracle to work with him and Bruce Dal Canton. With Kent, he was big on mechanics, and everyday for the ten or twelve days I was there we worked.

SHANKS: What did Kent Willis do with you?
DEVINE: Just a lot of flat ground stuff. He helped me picture how to be quick, how to get my feet down, and where my arm slot needed to be. He helped out my whole area when it comes to throwing a baseball and delivering a pitch to home plate.

SHANKS: So after working with Kent, did you feel you were back on track?
DEVINE: Absolutely. I felt good. Now I've just got to continue doing it every time out. There's been a couple of setbacks where I can feel myself getting out way too far, but I'm able to realize it now. Previously I wasn't able to realize when I was doing it; I was just throwing instead of realizing what a good pitch feels like. That's one of the biggest things I've been able to do.

SHANKS: Everyone's talked about you being rushed, which is easy for people to bring up, but when you've been healthy, you've been pretty darn good.
DEVINE: It's all about staying healthy. Whether you're a pitcher or position player, you've got to stay healthy. Some injuries you can work through and play through, but then again some other ones it's just tough to do. I tried to push through two injuries that were not light injuries. They both turned out to be pretty big setbacks. But I learned from that. It was a learning experience being able to learn my body and understand what my body is telling me and how to maintain strength and flexibility. I feel like I can pitch here and get guys out. Now it's just a matter of staying healthy and continue to do it.

SHANKS: It is kind of peculiar that the injuries did kind of slow you down to put you on a more normal pace. So these setbacks are only going to make you better for next year.
DEVINE: I just look it as being 23 years old and with all the goals I've set for myself I'd love to play this game for ten to fifteen more years. It's one of those things where I've got to continue to learn and eventually get into a routine and go from there and let everything else take care of itself.

SHANKS: So are you going into camp with the thought of trying to win a job in that 2007 bullpen?
DEVINE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Whatever that job might be, I'm just going to go into camp with an open mind. I want to go out and do what's best for the team, and whatever the outcome that is at the end of March is where it'll stand.

SHANKS: The performances you had in September must make you happy. Have these performances made you feel that you belong up here?
DEVINE: Definitely. I'm not putting the pressure on myself that I have to go out there and be perfect in order to stay here. My mentality is to go out there and throw and have fun. Let's go compete against these hitters and attack the strike zone and see what happens. I know if I'm aggressive and compete and battle, I'll be fine.

***

When the Braves drafted Joey Devine two summers ago, they believed he would one day be the team's closer. But injuries have unfortunately been the story of his Braves' career.

In his very first game, in August of 2005 against the Padres, he hurt his hip between the first and second innings of work. In that second inning, he gave up a grand slam. Then later that next week, with his hip still bothering him, he gave up another grand slam against the Cubs.

Devine was shut down until the last week of the season, and when he returned he was outstanding - good enough to convince Bobby Cox to place him on the playoff roster. Unfortunately, Devine was on the hill when the Astros won the 18-inning marathon to end the Braves' 2005 season.

Then this spring Devine was once again pitching very well, winning himself a job in the Atlanta bullpen, until his back started to bother him as he described in the interview. His season was practically ruined as he battled back to pitch only in the last month of the season.

And again, when he was healthy, as he was in September, Devine showed he can be very effective. The right-hander pitched in eight games and did not give up an earned run. He gave up only three hits, walked four, and struck out eight. His strong September gave the Braves reason to believe Devine was back on track?

Of course, people are going to be concerned with Devine, worrying if he's over giving up those grand slams and the home run in the playoffs against Houston. But the fact is when he's been healthy, Devine has showed everyone exactly why the Braves spent a first round pick on him last year.

One of the reasons the Braves drafted Devine was his strong makeup, and despite his setbacks, he still has a strong desire to be the team's closer one day. But with Bob Wickman under contract for 2007, the Braves will throw Devine into the competition for a setup role in the bullpen.

If he's healthy in camp, Devine could easily show Bobby Cox that he's ready for the opportunity. But even if Devine needs a bit more time in Triple-A, it's likely he will see time in the big leagues next season. This kid has got tremendous stuff, and the Braves could certainly use a pitcher with a fastball in the mid-upper 90s late in the game.

The concern about his psyche is overrated. Devine just needs to stay healthy, and if that happens the Braves could easily have the top- notch setup man they need behind Bob Wickman.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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