Jake Thompson was admittedly nervous when he was called up to pitch for the Phillies last season. In his first couple starts, the nerves took over and he was struggling to be a major league pitcher. Pitching coach Bob McClure came up with an idea. Simplify Thompson's mechanics to give him less to worry about.
The first move was to eliminate having Thompson take his hands over his head when pitching from the wind-up. It eliminated a lot of the movement from Thompson's mechanics, but it also - in non-technical terms - messed him up.
"I think I have to move to develop some rhythm. Some guys are better at being really still and have clean mechanics, but I just think that moving helps me a little more," explained Thompson.
The thought going into the offseason and into this season, was to have Thompson continue with the new mechanics so that when he was back in the majors, the simplified wind-up would help battle his nerves. The results were horrible. In his first two starts of the season, Thompson was rocked by opposing hitters. In two starts, he lasted a combined 4 2/3 innings, gave up 15 hits and six walks that led to 15 earned runs in the two games, putting his ERA at 28.93 with Lehigh Valley.
After his second start, he and IronPigs pitching coach Dave Lundquist got together and talked about what was going on. The new mechanics were meant to be a quick-fix to get Thompson past his nerves, but in the long run, they simply weren't comfortable for him.
"Last year, for what it was, it was a quick-fix, and it had a purpose, and I was able to do it," said Thompson about the change. "This year, once I got uncomfortable, because there's no rhythm to it, it was hard for me to correct it. Me and Lundy [pitching coach Dave Lundquist] sat down and kind of addressed it and talked about it and made sure that we got it ironed out.
"It was a quick fix because of nerves and adrenaline, because the movement had gotten to be too much, too quick. Now, I think we're just going to work on that [the nerves and adrenaline] so I can hone that in, so I don't have to alter my delivery to pitch up there."
Looking back on the changes, Thompson realizes that not only did he not feel comfortable, but he believes that he wasn't getting as much power and movement on his pitches. Those factors all came in to play when he and Lundquist talked about going back to the mechanics that helped him to be the International League Pitcher of the Year last season.
"I don't know if it makes sense, but in that kind of side-saddle style, it was a little stale and stagnant and there wasn't any movement to it, so I think there was some power left on the table. I just feel stronger when I go over the head and have a full turn into my delivery," said Thompson.
With his old mechanics back, Thompson pitched Tuesday night against the Columbus Clippers with much better results. Thompson wasn't back to the dominating style that he had previously, but was able to go five innings, giving up three hits and three walks, while striking out six. Most importantly, he allowed just one earned run, with a passed ball and an error leading to two other runs. Ironically, Thompson didn't allow a home run in either of his first two starts, but did give one up Tuesday night to Adam Moore.
"The walks were what they were, just a couple hitters that I fell behind and tried to make good pitches, and missed. Other than that, I thought that I threw the ball good, and then the guy put a good swing on a two-seamer and hit it out. There wasn't a whole lot I could control there; I made a pretty good pitch. Other than that it was light years better than what it has been," said Thompson.
The good news is that physically, Thompson is back to where he needs to be with his mechanics, and the struggles didn't affect his mental approach or throw him off long-term.
"I was just frustrated that I wasn't getting people out and I wasn't throwing like myself," said Thompson. "For me, it doesn't matter how you're throwing as long as you're getting people out."