After spending all of the 2008 season in relief and combining for 76-2/3 innings and posting a 5.13 ERA between Class AA Tennessee (where he spent most of the season) and Class AAA Iowa (where he ended up), Estrada expects to make most of his appearances in Arizona as a starter.
That could be a catch-22, though.
Estrada has pitched just one inning and two innings, respectively, in his first two starts in the Fall League, and he says there are no definitive plans to ease him into a starter's role in the future.
"They just told me that I'm going to be starting," said Estrada. "That's fine with me; I like starting. As long as I get to pitch, it's fine by me."
Estrada was added to the Mesa Solar Sox roster in place of right-hander Justin Berg, who was initially scheduled to pitch in Arizona but instead will play winter ball in Venezuela, the Cubs said.
Coming off an up-and-down regular season, one which saw him sustain a line drive to the face in an early May game at Chattanooga and later earn a promotion to Triple-A, Estrada had originally hoped to find a spot on a winter league roster in Mexico. While he was spending time in Las Vegas, the Cubs called with an invite to the Fall League.
But the biggest change for Estrada is not one of roles or locales.
To start with, he seems to be throwing harder than in years past. Because of that, Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said there's still something in the tank with Estrada, who has posted only average numbers throughout much of his minor league career with the Cubs since being drafted in 2004 (31st round).
"(Minor League Pitching Coordinator) Mark Riggins, along with (Tennessee pitching coach) Dennis Lewallyn and (Iowa pitching coach) Mike Mason, between the three of them I think they made a few adjustments in his delivery so that pretty regularly we're starting to see the velocities that we thought he might throw," Fleita said of Estrada.
"Along with the slider and sinker and changeup, he's a very intimidating-looking guy on the mound," Fleita said of the 6'8, 260 pound Estrada, the tallest pitcher in the Cubs' farm system. "He's always been a strike-thrower, so we feel there's something left in the tank."
Estrada isn't sure just how much extra oomph he has on his fastball, or even how hard he throws at all because, he says, he doesn't pay much attention to radar guns. But he said he could feel some added velocity behind his pitches this season.
The adjustments in Estrada's delivery have more to do with utilizing his legs, he said. He's been working in the Fall League with Solar Sox pitching coach Ray Burris, a former big league pitcher and currently a pitching instructor in the Detroit Tigers' farm system, to help in that regard.
"We've been working on staying back, on using more of my legs instead of more of my upper body; just using more of my lower body during my delivery," he said.
Estrada also added a new pitch to his arsenal this past season, he said.
"I started doing a lot of split-changeups and it was working really well," he said. "I even (used) it as my second pitch for a while."
Estrada hasn't been in the Fall League for very long, but says he enjoys the competition among other things.
"This is pretty awesome," he says. "You get to play with a bunch of other guys and it's an honor to be invited to the Fall League. Playing with all the other guys from the other clubs, it's good to get to know them and meet different people and see how they play and how we all play together."
Estrada changing it up in Arizona
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