Hinckley's Turnaround Comes Just In Time

The Washington Nationals decided that a change was needed for Mike Hinckley, so they moved him from the starting rotation at Harrisburg to the bullpen. The move has been a big relief for Hinckley.

When the Nationals broke camp this past Spring, Mike Hinckley found himself making a return trip to Harrisburg, where he had pitched in 2007 and also for part of the 2004 season. His first full-season stint at Double-A didn't go well and he finished last season with a 5.83 ERA in 23 starts. That, coupled with a couple of sub-par seasons in the Carolina League, had greatly dimmed his blip on the Nationals prospect radar.

The 2008 season wasn't going very well either as Hinckley found himself in an unfamiliar role of pitching out of the bullpen. His first 16 appearances with the Senators were in relief and he had a 5.02 ERA. The good news was that he had shown some bright spots and in mid-May, had his ERA at 4.29, until a string of bad outings pushed it up.

Needing some starting help, Hinckley was summoned back to the starting rotation at Harrisburg and looked lost through six starts. With his ERA as a starter at 5.58, the Nationals again decided to move him back to the bullpen and then, decided to make an even more unexpected move when they moved him to Triple-A Columbus. When he arrived at Columbus, Hinckley made a spot start, throwing six strong innings against a good Scranton Wilkes-Barre club, before heading into the bullpen.

Whether it was the challenge of pitching at Triple-A, new surroundings or just getting comfortable in his new role, Hinckley blossomed.

"There was an adjustment period to pitching in relief," said Hinckley. "After I worked into some sort of a routine though, I got to where it felt more and more right for me."

The 25 year old left-hander made 19 relief appearances for the Clippers and posted a 3.20 ERA out of their bullpen. The transformation was impressive enough that the Nationals gave him his first promotion to the majors for the month of September and he's become a key part of their new look bullpen.

In ten appearances, Hinckley has pitched nine innings, allowing just four hits and a walk, while striking out seven.

Actually, Hinckley thought he would be in the majors back in 2005, but it just didn't pan out and he started the season back in the minors and ended it by having shoulder surgery. In 2006 and 2007, Hinckley was still trying to find the low-90s velocity that he had before the injury and was sinking fast.

Harrisburg manager John Stearns was one of the first to realize that something had to be done.

"He was too timid early in the season and he just looked beaten at times on the mound. He was just sort of sliding forward in his motion and there was no velocity," said Stearns. Working with pitching coach Rick Tomlin and minor league roving pitching instructor Spin Williams, Stearns set out to keep Hinckley's weight back and the move led to an increase in velocity to the point where Hinckley is now back to where he was before the surgery. "Before long, he looked like a different pitcher out there and was starting to intimidate guys, which he hadn't done before," commented Stearns.

"I'm so excited, thankful and blessed," said Hinckley about his resurgence and emergence to the majors. It's likely that Hinckley won't be seeing much of Harrisburg or any other minor league city anytime soon.

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