Command, sink carry Eppley to fast start

STOCKTON, Calif. – In 106 career professional innings, Cody Eppley has posted a 2.55 earned-run average. The sidearmer is off to an excellent start at High-A Bakersfield, where he has logged 10.2 scoreless frames thus far. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 24-year-old relief prospect.

Approximately one full month into the 2010 season, no California League hitter has been able to touch Cody Eppley.

The former 43rd-round selection out of Virginia Commonwealth University is an intriguing story. Eppley pitched with the rookie-level AZL Rangers after being drafted in 2008, where he had a 2.10 ERA and seven saves in 25.2 innings. Eppley had excellent command [five walks] and missed plenty of bats [34 strikeouts].

As the right-hander explains below, he showed up to Spring Training in 2009 with decreased velocity, and the Rangers chose to make him a sidearm pitcher.

So far, the results have been outstanding.

Pitching a full season with Single-A Hickory in '09, Eppley logged a 2.93 ERA in 67.2 innings. He walked just six batters [0.8 per nine] while striking out 76 [10.1 per nine].

As a late-round pick without overpowering stuff, the 6-foot-5 hurler will likely have to prove himself at each step of the organizational ladder. But so far with High-A Bakersfield this season, he is not only continuing to dominate––he is also improving.

In his first 10.2 innings out of the Blaze bullpen, Eppley has yet to surrender a run, allowing seven hits, walking one and striking out 11. He is getting 4.25 groundouts per flyout after posting a 2.38 ratio last season.

Eppley isn't overpowering––his sinking fastball is just 85-88 mph on an average day. However, his long, lanky frame and sidearm delivery make the ball tough to pick up, particularly for right-handed hitters. He also gets tons of sink and run on his fastball, and he rarely misses up in the zone.

The 24-year-old also mixes in a slower, sweeping slider along with the occasional changeup. He has strong command of his entire arsenal and pounds both corners and the bottom half of the zone––a nice recipe for success at any level.

Given his age and advanced command, Eppley may not spend the entire season in Bakersfield. Only time will tell, but he has a good opportunity to see Double-A Frisco before long.

Prospect Video: Cody Eppley throws warmup pitches

Jason Cole: I want to talk to you about your transition to becoming a sidearmer. When you were in the Arizona League in 2008, you came over the top, didn't you?

Cody Eppley: Yeah, I was like a high three-quarters––maybe right around three-quarters––guy. I had some sink on it. My velocity was alright, but coming back in the spring, it wasn't really there. Danny Clark and Scott Servais saw some stuff with how the ball moved and the sink that it got. They thought, ‘Let's try to move it down.'

They tilted me over at the waist a little bit. I kind of keep the same arm slot, but it just makes a little more deception. They wanted to see if I could get a little more natural sink out of it, and it worked well with me.

Cole: So this was something you did in Spring Training of 2009?

Eppley: Yeah. That Spring Training was about five weeks, I think. The first four weeks, I was over the top. Then the last week, DC came up to me and talked to me about it. We kind of started working with it there.

We threw some bullpens––dropping my arm down and throwing that sidearm. I did about a week like that in Spring Training and then maybe about 10 days in extended. Then I went out to Hickory and started throwing.

Cole: From the start in Hickory, it seemed like you had no real problems with results or command. How were you able to take to it so easily?

Eppley: I think I always had pretty good command. All through college, I had pretty good command. That was something I always prided myself on––being able to throw strikes. I think I just worked at it really hard to make sure that I got a good feel for it quickly. I was able to throw the ball over the plate. You have to look at it as making them hit the ball compared to trying to miss bats.

Cole: Tell me about your stuff from the sidearm angle. Do you get more sink on the ball now? Did your slider change at all?

Eppley: Yeah, I get a lot more sink. I think it's later. And I think it's a lot sharper than what it was before. My slider was the biggest thing. I think my slider is kind of what got me drafted. I threw a hard slider with a lot of depth. But now it's more of a frisbee slider, where I try to throw it and let the right-handed hitter just kind of run out of bat––have it keep sweeping away from them.

My slider is more one-dimensional now––it just moves across the plate. But with my sinker, I'm able to throw it to both sides of the plate and still get pretty good action out of it. That's probably the biggest change––I'm still able to throw the ball away and get a lot of good sink. I have been missing bats that way.

Cole: Even though you are a sidearmer, being a 6-foot-5 guy, is there ever any issue with keeping the ball down or dealing with moving parts mechanically?

Eppley: Yeah, I just have to make sure that I keep going down as I finish and not pop up or stand up as I go. If I do that, a lot of times my ball will flatten out. I think with being a bigger guy and having longer arms, that also helps in my deception because there are a lot of parts moving. I'm up there and then all the sudden I drop down. With my arm being that sidearm––I think to a right-hander, it definitely changes their eye sight from looking almost directly on to behind them to pick up the ball as it comes in.

Cole: You were a starter at Virginia Commonwealth, correct?

Eppley: Yeah.

Cole: Even though you're now coming out of the bullpen and you're no longer over the top, do you still mix in the occasional changeup?

Eppley: Yeah. I definitely still mix up some changeups. It's kind of that one pitch I'm still working on. I'm trying to get a good feel for it. But definitely, since about the middle of last year, I was working with Brad Holman in Hickory on my changeup. Then I've come here and now I'm working with Chavarria on my changeup.

It has gotten a lot better and I am a lot more comfortable throwing it to lefties. If I feel like my slider or my sinker––that righties are just kind of on those––I'm not scared to throw the changeup in to a righty and try to fool him with it too.

Cole: You are pitching well statistically so far this year. What are your thoughts on your 2010 season so far?

Eppley: I'm happy with the way I'm throwing. I feel real good. The ball is coming out of my hand well. I'm not trying to do too much or think too much into it. I'm just taking each pitch as it comes and concentrate on that pitch. I'm just making that pitch and going from there.

Cole: Along similar lines, how did you feel about your first season as a sidearmer, with Hickory last year?

Eppley: I was happy with it. The beginning of the year was a transition, going to sidearm. I struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year. It had its ups-and-downs, but the whole way through, I was really happy with the way I threw. I was happy with my control.

As the season went on, I got a lot more comfortable and kind of grew into it. I added my own little personality to the way I threw, so I was happy with the way my first full season went.

Cole: How long did it take before throwing sidearm just felt like ‘you' or before it felt normal?

Eppley: Probably about five or six weeks until I actually got real comfortable with it. It was a sense of being able to control all the pitches––being able to command it. I guess, at first, my changeup was my second-best pitch when I was in extended. Then when I got to Hickory, the hitters weren't biting on it. So then I had to really concentrate on my slider. Working with Brad out there in Hickory, my slider really took off and that has become my second-best pitch.

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