Sherrill completes improbable journey to the Bigs

Those of you who don't know the George Sherrill story probably don't understand how incredible it is that he's suited up for the Seattle Mariners tonight. You don't know about his half-decade spent in the independent leagues or his incredible emergence as a Mariner farmhand. Get up to speed on the 27-year-old southpaw, and learn more about his pitching style, right here at InsidethePark.com.

On July 2 of last year, a 26-year-old George Sherrill signed his first contract to play for a Major League Baseball organization – the Seattle Mariners - bringing with him a strong left-handed arm and beyond that, a whole lot of uncertainty.

Having spent parts of five seasons in the independent leagues, Sherrill got by with his overpowering fastball but had little in his repertoire in the way of off-speed pitches or breaking balls.

The Mariners decided he was still a chance worth taking, signing the southpaw and sending him to Double-A to pitch for the remainder of the season. Given the opportunity he'd been waiting for his whole life, the bulky left-hander adapted to his new surroundings better than anyone could have hoped.

He immediately began to improve his off-speed pitches, absorbing all the advice thrown his way from San Antonio's pitching coach Rafael Chaves, and overwhelmed batters with his deceptive fastball.

The results were silly – 27.1 innings pitched, one earned run allowed, a 3-1 record and a 0.33 ERA.

Sherrill worked hard at developing a breaking ball over the offseason and moved up the ladder, beginning 2004 at Tacoma. Used as a middle-reliever at first then as the Rainiers turn-out-the-lights closer, Sherrill utilized his newly-found slurve and mixed in a developing changeup to become one of the top pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, if not all of the minors.

His numbers heading into the all-star break tell the story better than any words could – a 2.32 ERA, 13 saves, 62 strikeouts and only nine walks.

On Wednesday, while Sherrill was in Pawtucket, RI attending the Triple-A All Star Game only a year and two weeks after first signing with the Mariners organization, the 27-year-old got word that he was getting called up to the big leagues.

Call it a matter of the perfect timing. We'll call it a dream come true, a Hollywood type success story and an opportunity well deserved.

"He's been tremendous," said Pat Rice, the Mariners minor league pitching coordinator. "He's done everything we've asked of him, and pitched well to both left-handers and right-handers. He's not a prototypical lefty-versus-lefty hitter. Neither way do guys hit him. He's not a pushover against righties.

"I think it's rightfully so that he got called up."

Rice says the lefty has come a long ways since he first signed.

"His breaking ball has improved a lot," he said. "When he got here that was a pitch we wanted to hit him with. As well as his changeup - he didn't have that coming in. He threw hard in the independent leagues but his command was iffy. Everyone who's worked with him has done a really nice job of giving him the things he needed to get to the bigs."

So what's made Sherrill so effective? What's allowed him to do the things he's done in such a short amount of time? Rice says it's a mixture of his hard work ethic, his ability learn and adapt to changes in a timely manner, and his raw natural talent.

"He did a tremendous job of taking the information and applying it quickly," said Rice. "There's a reason why there are so many levels of the minor leagues, because guys have to learn things slowly and take it once step at a time. George pulled it off in about a year."

Sherrill uses both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a slurve and a changeup. In the closers role with Tacoma, he didn't have to use the changeup as much because he only had to face opposing batters once through the order on most occasions. Depending on the role he is in with the Mariners, he could rely more on that pitch if he becomes a middle or long reliever and is asked to pitch two-to-three innings at a time.

Rice says it isn't the velocity that makes Sherrill's fastball so difficult to deal with.

"Moreso than his fastball is the deception that it brings," said the Mariners minor league pitching coordinator. "The radar gun lies. Hitters react differently to his fastball. Even when he's throwing 88-to-89 mph, it takes a while for hitters to realize he's got that much on it. He's very deceptive. He throws harder than gun reads."

Rice continued.

"He terribly quick. His arm is really quick and works out front very well. He commands his fastball pretty well to the outside of the plate against left-handers, which puts lefties in a tough situation. And he pitches in. He hammers the outside of the plate but doesn't have a problem coming in."

And the slider?

"He can change angles of the slider," said Rice. "He can throw it harder. He can slow it down. He can make it flatter. When working on the cutter during the spring, a pitch he has since abandoned, it improved the slider. He can do a lot of different things with it."

Seattle returns to action tonight to face Cleveland in a game set to start at 7:05 at Safeco Field. When they do, George Sherrill will be there, soaking it all up in his first game as a big leaguer.

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