Right-hander Ben Henry got a bit of a surprise at the end of Spring Training last year–he found out he was going to the Dominican Republic.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound hurler showed up at Spring Training in '09 with mid-80s velocity on his fastball, down quite a bit from the upper-80s, low-90s he had shown in the past.
Because they wanted him to work solely on re-strengthening his arm, the Rangers sent Henry to their complex outside of San Pedro de Macoris, where they put him on a long-toss program.
Once Henry's velocity began to return, the club brought him back to the states, where he joined short-season Spokane for the start of their season.
Henry got off to an outstanding start with the Indians, striking out 15 batters in just 8.2 innings over his first two starts. However, the hurler had a handful of rough outings afterwards, and his earned-run average sat at 9.41 after eight appearances and 22 innings. Although he was missing bats [26 strikeouts], he gave up 31 hits over that span.
While the South Carolina native was struggling, the Rangers decided to move his arm angle down to try and create a bit more deception and movement on his fastball. From the higher angle and his 6-foot-4 frame, Henry often missed up in the zone, making him too hittable.
The prospect began showing improvement later in the year, as he became both more effective and less hittable. In his final seven outings, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 28.2 innings, yielding 31 hits, walking six, and striking out 17.
Most importantly, Henry was able to keep the ball down more consistently. After surrendering four home runs in his first five starts, he yielded just one in that final 28.2 inning stretch.
Even with the lower arm slot, Henry gets good angle on his 89-90 mph fastball when he works down in the zone. His big-breaking curveball is a promising pitch, and it has helped him rack up 122 strikeouts in 120.2 innings over three professional seasons. The 20-year-old has also begun focusing on a changeup.
Henry has pitched in two Spring Training games thus far, logging two scoreless innings with no walks and a pair of strikeouts.
Jason Cole: In your last Spring Training outing, your velocity was around 89-90 mph. Weren't you down to the mid-80s this time last year?
Ben Henry: Yeah, last year I came in a little under what I am this year. I give that credit to how I worked out this offseason–how much I threw and the guys I was throwing with. Mike Hessman with the Mets kind of helped me out a lot. He caught a ton of my bullpens–pretty much all of them this year. I'd like to thank him. I worked out at Coastal Carolina a lot, too. We were there three days a week, so that helped out a lot.
Cole: What was the reason for your velocity being down when you came into spring last year, and was it back up by the time you left the Dominican Republic or by the end of the year?
Henry: Yeah. I think I didn't throw enough bullpens last year and just didn't have enough on-the-mound time. I think that kind of hurt me when I got here. I was trying to pick up everything and when it started getting going, everything wasn't there.
I went down to the Dominican and we worked out–we were long tossing every day and throwing. As soon as I left there–mid-way through after I got sick, I was back up to what I usually am.
Cole: You got sick in the Dominican?
Henry: Yeah, mid-way through my time there. I got sick the last week of April, first week of May. I don't know what it was. We went out and got something to eat. We went to dinner and next thing I know, I was sick. I remember eating something the day before that looked like red chicken. I'm not sure if that was it or what. But I was out for about a week there and then came back and we started playing games and throwing bullpens.
Cole: So you were pitching in games while you were in the Dominican Republic?
Henry: Yeah. We were throwing in a few.
Cole: So it's kind of like Extended Dominican Spring Training?
Henry: Yeah, it is. It's almost like Spring Training for the Latin players that don't come here. I don't think they're there right now, but I assume–once camp breaks here–some of the guys here will go back–at least they did last year. They kind of start up right as Spring Training gets over with here, and it's pretty much extended throughout.
Cole: Look back on your season as a whole last year–going to the Dominican Republic and then playing in Spokane. How did you feel you developed as a pitcher?
Henry: I found out a lot about myself as a pitcher. I started out real well then kind of had a real rough patch where I guess I was just leaving the ball up and not doing the stuff that I needed to. I just settled down and said, ‘It's going to happen, just let it go.' Everything started to come around and I finished up real strong.
They were working with me with some stuff–dropping my arm slot down to like a three-quarter instead of straight over the top. I think that helped me a lot with getting the ball down and being more effective.
Cole: And you're still using that lower arm slot now?
Henry: Yeah. Actually, they're working with me this spring about striding out and getting length on my stride. I've been doing that for my last two outings, and I kind of like it.
Cole: What is the longer stride aimed to help you with?
Henry: It kind of keeps me more in direction with home plate. I'm not missing outside or away or not. When I do miss, it is a little up. But I'm just trying to stay in, stay through everything and go right to home plate.
Cole: You pitched with Bakersfield the other day, in your second outing. Was your first one also with Bakersfield?
Cole: How do you feel they have gone so far?
Henry: They have gone real well. My first outing, the first pitch was a groundout. So that went real quick. The next guy got a 1-1 hit, then the next guy flew out to center and the next guy struck out. They're going well. It feels real good. My arm feels good. I'm just trying to roll through spring like this.
Cole: I remember you telling me in the past that you lost the feel for your curveball early on in your professional career, but you were starting to get it back last year. How do you feel about it out here?
Henry: Yeah, it feels good. I worked a lot with it this offseason and last year. But with this new striding out real far, I kind of get a little late with it. I left it up the other day, and that was the ball that went to center. But that's one thing I have to work on–getting more out in front with it. We're going to try and do that in some bullpens and get that feel for it back in games.
Henry off to strong start
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