Padres scouting report: James Darby

Everyone has seen the Women's Team USA softball team and even Tony Gwynn didn't believe he could hit many of their pitches. Carry that over to the men's side of the field, move the rubber back a bit and add another fifteen-twenty miles per hour on the pitch. Voila! You have James Darby – the submariner. <br><br>

The Australian right-hander was an underhand softball pitcher just a few years ago, enjoying his trade. Darby estimated that he "threw between 500 and 600 pitches a week." All of them were underhand in a fast-pitch softball league. He was picked up by the Padres and really began his trade – as an outfielder.

That experiment lasted a month. He got his chance on the mound and has been turning heads ever since. It has been three years since he began his trek as a pitcher. At 20 years old, he has a lot to learn and it starts with his mechanics.

As a sidewinder, James Darby struggles to maintain control of his pitches, just as catchers struggle to guide the ball into their gloves when he is on the mound. With a fastball that reaches 92, when the 6-foot-3 Darby is on, he is nearly unhittable. That has not happened as often as he would like. With a lanky frame and a pitch that comes from third base, it is hard for the batter to pick up the ball.

Darby also confides, "I think I hide it well."

Where he gets into trouble is with his release point. With a sidearm delivery, the point of release changes ever so slightly if his arm angle is not where it was on the previous pitch.

"He rustled with his command all year long," Padres' Director of Player Development Tye Waller said. "If you see the games where he did throw strikes, he usually did well. He never did get hit very hard. He walked most of the guys."

In July, hitters batted just .170 off him but his ERA remained high at 4.73. At home, he kept the opposition to a meager .122 batting average but again his ERA was elevated at 4.40.

The reason: 35 walks in 25.1 innings of work. Combine that with seven wild pitches and ten batters hit and you have the making of disaster. Twenty-four earned runs crossed the plate to give him a season ERA of 8.53.

Things really took a turn for the worse at the end of July. His confidence began to slide when he hit a batter in the head. He wasn't the same pitcher after that and seemed to take that through the rest of the season.

"Yeah, it's one of those things when you don't mean to hit a guy and you hit him in the head," Darby said. "I was just shaken up a little bit, it was the first time I hit somebody in the head pretty hard. It was a decent fastball, too. It's kind of scary when they take a step toward first base and then collapse."

August reflected the woes with a 14.46 ERA, including one game where he nailed three batters and another where he walked five in one outing. It didn't matter that the opposition hit just .180 off him with runners in scoring position. He was letting them in by other means.

"There is another guy that just lost confidence," said Waller. "He definitely has a good arm."

Darby varies the speed on his pitches from 80-92 and can keep hitters off-balance with his delivery and the movement of his pitches.

Command is essential to his development. Having played only three years of baseball, he remains raw. Finding that niche where he is comfortable with his arm angle and confident that he can throw his pitches for strikes at any moment in time.

"We have to get his confidence back," Waller reiterates. "With a sidearmer, the release point is so crucial in his ability to command the strike zone. When you lose it and constantly make changes, nobody can be consistent. And that is where we have to get back with James Darby."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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