Jerry Blevins Finds the Right Angle

The self-titled World's Most Famous Beach is known for its fast speeds on the race track. On the baseball field, one such reliever for Class-A Daytona is off to a fast lap himself.

Through his first 10 appearances this season, left-hander Jerry Blevins finds himself with four saves and a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings.

He's notched 20 strikeouts to five walks (two of which were intentional) and has held opposing hitters to a .186 average.

Given Blevins' struggles the past two seasons after joining the Cubs as a 17th-round draft pick in 2004, his newfound success in the Daytona bullpen may come as a surprise to some, but not to pitching coach Rich Bombard.

"It's no accident that he's off to the good start that he is. He's getting good movement on his fastball and he's been aggressive. He's thrown strikes, worked ahead, and pitched down in the zone," explains Bombard.

Even more encouraging is that the southpaw's velocity has shot up considerably in recent weeks.

The only thing is, Bombard isn't exactly sure why.

"It's jumped up about 5 to 6 miles per hour from where it was this spring," he said. "I don't think any of us really know the answer."

What Blevins himself knows is that he's been more comfortable on the mound after going back to his original, over-the-top style of delivery following a brief transformation into the world of sidearm pitching last spring.

A starter throughout most of his career at the University of Dayton (Ohio), where he was a walk-on, Blevins went right to work with the Cubs as a reliever in his professional debut season with Class Low-A, short-season Boise in 2004. He saved five games and finished a total of 11 games while limiting opponents to a .145 average – good for a 1.62 ERA in 33 innings.

But after struggling with Class-A Peoria the following year, Blevins came into minor league camp in 2006 having taken on a new delivery at the request of then-Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Lester Strode.

Blevins was held over in Extended Spring Training to accommodate the move and would join Daytona in late May, where his struggles from the previous season persisted in eight games, leading to a demotion back to Boise.

It was there in the Northwest League where Blevins eventually ditched the sidearm delivery and went back over the top.

"It just didn't work out," Blevins says in retrospect. "It was worth a shot. We felt maybe we had an edge."

Although the change yielded little or no improvement, Blevins feels that it's helped him from a mental standpoint.

"As a sidearm guy, you have to be more of a finesse pitcher as opposed to having to rely on arm strength," he said. "That helped me in becoming more of a precision pitcher when I came back over the top."

In his repertoire, Blevins features a fastball that is commonly in the low 90's (90-92 mph), though he reports to having topped out at 96 mph at one point in his minor league career.

He complements his fastball with a changeup and a slider-curveball variation.

"The changeup has been decent," Bombard noted. "Some times it's been (difficult), but he's thrown some good ones. He's like any other young pitcher in that command is the biggest thing he needs to work on.

"His fastball command is getting better. A lot of times he's thrown strikes, but not in the area that he wanted," noted Bombard.

To help execute better control, Blevins recently spent some time with Cubs first-year Minor League Pitching Coordinator Alan Dunn.

The two worked on things such as better grips, keeping a steady tempo, and the pitcher's overall approach.

"It definitely helped in the few days that A.D. was here," Blevins said. "It's all coming along now so hopefully we'll be able to break it out here soon."

As for his role, the Johnson City, Tenn., native doesn't seem to have been assigned anything specific.

Though most of his work has come in the late innings this season, Blevins feels he's become a pretty versatile pitcher over the years.

"(It's) because of the fact that I'd closed for a while, done some setup duties, and can do long relief from the experience I've gotten as a starter in both college and high school," he offered. "I'll be ready to pitch wherever they need me."

Added Bombard: "To his credit, he tried to make that (delivery) change and it didn't work out. It's good that Lester and (2006 Boise pitching coach) David Rosario thought he deserved another shot at coming back up top. Since he was given that shot, he's thrown the ball really well."

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