Dropping Down to Success

VERO BEACH, Florida-- Casey Hoorelbeke was somewhat dissatisfied with his first professional year. No, not the results which were fine. It was the method used to achieve them that bothered him.

In 2004, Casey came at the batters from a conventional over-the-top delivery. But, "I never felt comfortable that way," he explains. "I tend to throw against my body somewhat and I didn't think I got the most out of my pitches. So, I started working on dropping down and when I got to spring training, the coaches helped me. I feel a lot better now."

In two stops in 2004 -- at Columbus, then, Vero --Casey had success with his old method, 0-1, 2.57 in the South Atlantic League, then, 6-4, 4.01 after moving up to the Florida State League. However, it was getting to the higher levels of the game that concerned him enough to alter his delivery.

At 6-8, 230, the righthander is the most imposing physical specimen in the Dodger organization at any position. And now that he whips his low 90's fast ball in from the new angle, he's even more threatening, particularly to right-handed batters.

The automatic thought when you see someone that big is that he had to play basketball and in Casey's case, you'd be right. It was the most important game he played at Lewis-Clark State in Idaho. Oh, he played baseball as well but he didn't get along with the coach particularly so didn't have enough of a career to attract scouts. It was only after older brother Jesse had signed with the Dodgers and tipped off scout George Genovese that he gained a tryout. When he hit 95 on the gun, George was sold.

"He went to the Dodger front office and told them that he had a kid that threw 95 so advised they look at him. They told him that if he thought the kid was good enough, they would take his word so he signed me."

That was in August 2003 after which Casey joined brother Jesse at Vero Beach to work out and tune up for the next season. Since he was 24 the next April, they wasted little time seeing if he could handle more advanced batters.

He's certainly doing that with his new approach. Currently, he's 2-1, 2.61 with 17 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, mostly in long relief although he's also made one quality start.

Jesse, by the way, was released by the Dodgers at the end of last season but has caught on with the Mariners which presents something of a dilemma to their dad. Known as Peter Rivera, he's the lead singer for the group Rare Earth. Like most aging rockers, he loves his work, has a strong following and has no intention of retiring so he's on tour a great deal.

He always arranges dates that bring him into proximity with his sons so he can be on hand to watch as any proud father would. It worked out fine when both were teammates but, of course, it's harder now. He'll manage though.

As for Casey, he 's still experimenting in the bullpen, trying an even further drop-down to a sidearmer. So  far, he hasn't used it in games but he's perfecting his touch. And if the Dodgers have another Steve Schmoll on the way, they'd join Peter in singing Casey's song.