Layne Succeeding in Transition to Bullpen

Thomas Layne has not allowed a run in his last four games and sports a 1.42 ERA over last six appearances. Last year's 26th round draft choice spoke with us about being one of the few southpaws in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and what it takes to succeed as a sinkerballer.

The South Bend Silver Hawks do not usually employ a full-time closer, believing that at lower levels, relievers need to learn to pitch a couple of innings at a time in case their eventual big league role is as a middle or long reliever.  Manager Mark Haley therefore rotates two or three pitchers at any given time as stoppers: "not the closer, but the guy who's going to come out of the pen and shut everything down if there's a problem," defines Haley.  Early in the 2008 season, Haley identified his three stoppers as Evan Scribner, William Spottiswood, and Thomas Layne.

Layne is the only one of the three who has worked as a starter in the Diamondbacks organization.  He has been averaging more innings per appearance than the other two stoppers, doesn't strike out nearly as many, and has yet to record a save.  With such a dearth of left-handed pitchers in the organization, Layne's future would appear to be in the bullpen, although the fact that his outings have continued to be stretched out gives an inkling that he may be moved back into a starting role someday.

"I'm happy with what I'm doing now, but if they want me to be a starter, by all means, I'd be more than happy to do that, too," said Layne. "It's something I've been doing for the past couple of years, so I'm comfortable doing it.  But I'm not unfamiliar with coming out of the bullpen; I've done that quite a bit, too."

One reason Layne profiles well as a starter is that he has a four-pitch repertoire.  In addition to his sinker, he throws a changeup, cutter, and curveball.  As a starter, he would mix in his secondary pitches pretty evenly.  Now that he usually faces hitters only once per game, he generally just takes whatever secondary pitches work well in his bullpen session and scraps the others for his outing.  Silver Hawks pitching coach Erik Sabel has emphasized that Lyne pitches to his strength rather than try to out-think batters too much.

"Just trust my stuff and trust it down in the zone," quoted Layne as Sabel's mantra.  "I've gotten away from throwing my sinker, which is my predominate pitch.  He's just trying to get me to trust that and stick with it, because it's good enough to get guys out.  You don't need to be too fine with it, and let the movement take over."

Last year as a starter with the Osprey, Layne averaged 1.75 ground outs for every fly out.  This year, that figure is up to 2.33, illustrating his increased reliance on the two-seamer in his new role. 

"If you can get any kind of a hard pitch with downward movement, anything to miss the bottom of the barrel and get a ground ball... you keep it on the infield, you've got a chance to make a play," Layne explained.  "But if you give up pop flies at this level, they can be home runs at the next level, when you get to bigger and stronger hitters."

One of the interesting characteristics about sinkerballers is that they often pitch more effectively when their arm is tired.  Layne's streak of successful outings came on the heels of the longest outing of his season: a 3.2 inning stint in Lansing.  Layne has thrown two or more innings in five of the six games since then, and has allowed just two earned runs over that 12.2-inning span. 

"When your arm's a little bit sore, you've got to focus a little more and put a little more emphasis on release point, and then your sinker gets better," agreed Layne.  "You either want to be in the high extreme or the low extreme.  I've had a better sinker coming out of the bullpen where I've been not necessarily 100 percent, compared to games where I've got five days rest."   

So Layne can probably expect to see his workload continue to expand on that basis.  He could also move through the system pretty quickly, given how few southpaw prospects remain.

"Whatever's in the cards for me is in the cards for me," mused Layne.  "It doesn't really matter how many guys are in the organization; you've still got to do your job, put up the numbers, and succeed to get there." 

"But there's a lot of opportunities for left-handers in this organization, that's for sure."

of our chat with Thomas Layne.

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