Eppley continues quick rise

ROUND ROCK, Texas – After beginning the season at High-A Bakersfield, Cody Eppley has soared through the system to become a key member of the Triple-A Oklahoma City bullpen. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the prospect after his first appearance with the RedHawks.

Two members of the Texas Rangers' 2008 draft class have played at or above the Triple-A level this season.

The first is Justin Smoak, the 11th overall pick in the draft.

The other is Cody Eppley––a 43rd round selection, and the 1,293rd overall pick.

Eppley has broken out as a prospect this year, initially turning heads when he opened the season with 18 scoreless innings at High-A Bakersfield, walking only one while striking out 24.

The 24-year-old quickly earned a promotion to Double-A Frisco, where he immediately became a dominant late-inning force. In 22.2 innings with the RoughRiders, Eppley posted a 1.19 ERA while walking nine and fanning 27 batters.

Eppley recently made his Triple-A debut against the Round Rock Express, retiring all six batters he faced, getting four strikeouts and a pair of groundouts.

In his third game with Oklahoma City––on Sunday afternoon––Eppley surrendered three runs in one inning, doubling both his run total and ERA for the season.

Between three three levels, Eppley has a 1.21 ERA and 16 saves in 44.2 innings. He has surrendered 24 hits while walking 13 and striking out 57.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pound hurler began the season working in the 85-88 mph range with Bakersfield, but his sinking fastball spiked up to 88-91 [touching 92] after his promotion to Frisco.

During the game against Round Rock, Eppley threw his fastball at 88-89 mph to go along with a sweeping 78-80 mph slider.

Eppley's success this season has come from a mixture of things––his tricky sidearm delivery, the outstanding sink on his fastball [4.85 groundouts per flyout], and his good slider.

The deceptive arm angle, movement, and plus command have helped the reliever limit fellow right-handed hitters to a paltry .089/.146/.100 slash line this season with 42 strikeouts in 90 official at-bats. The lone extra-base hit was a double.

As with any sidearmer, the Pennsylvania native's biggest troubles have come against left-handed batters. Though they haven't had much success against him either on the whole, southpaws are 3-for-8 with a double against him thus far in Triple-A.

In the following interview, Eppley discusses two things he is working on to combat lefties––the backdoor slider and the changeup.

Eppley didn't begin throwing sidearm until Spring Training 2009, and in less than two full seasons, he has ascended to Triple-A and become a legitimate relief prospect in the Rangers organization.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with the right-hander after his first relief appearance with the RedHawks.

Jason Cole: Tell me about your reaction when you learned of your promotion to Triple-A. Were you expecting it at all?

Cody Eppley: No, I wasn't. We were just in Springfield with Frisco. We were sitting in there, just waiting around to play because we had a rainout. I was sitting in my hotel room that night, and I got a call from the manager up there, Steve Buechele. He said I was going up.

I was shocked. I was excited and surprised. I really wasn't expecting anything at all. I kind of thought maybe there was a good chance I'd just stay in Frisco the whole year, because I thought maybe they wanted me to get experience. I'm still pretty new to that arm slot down there.

Cole: You pitched two innings on the day you got here. What was it like to get on the mound in Triple-A?

Eppley: It was definitely a good experience. It was fun to just get out there and get my feet wet, in a sense. I didn't have to just sit around in the bullpen and wait, wait, and wait. I didn't have a chance to let my nerves get ahold of me.

It was good to get out on the mound. It was good to go out there in a close game to where I really had to pitch and concentrate. It's a different level, so it's just something else and something new to expect.

Cole: The results were more of the same for you, with four strikeouts and two groundouts to the six batters you faced. Did you notice much of a difference between hitters at the two levels?

Eppley: I noticed on some of my pitches that I think the guys are a little more patient at this level. They're a little more experienced. They took a couple pitches that, especially where I started in Bakersfield, I don't think they would have took.

But up here, they took them and I think up here, they take a lot of fist-pitch strikes because they want to see me. I think that might be a recurring thing––especially until a couple teams get to see me at least once. I think I have that going for me.

Cole: You were pretty good throughout your time in Frisco, but you seemed to take it to another level in those last five outings or so. Was there anything behind that late spark?

Eppley: I think it was just coming off that All-Star break and having a couple days off. I think that helped. My last couple outings there in Frisco, my arm felt really good. It felt like it was back to where it was at the beginning of the year. I don't know if it was just a little bit of a dead-arm period or not, but those last couple outings there, I threw real well and my arm felt real good.

Cole: How many innings did you throw last year?

Eppley: I threw around 67 innings.

Cole: You're on pace for about the same this year, aren't you?

Eppley: I'm not really sure. I think I'm going to end up having more appearances. I think I only had maybe 36 appearances last year, and I'm already right around 32. So I think I'm going to have more appearances, but innings-wise, I don't know how many I'm going to have.

Cole: So you're coming out more often but not throwing as many innings per outing. Does that affect your arm differently?

Eppley: It's about the same. I know last year in Hickory, there were a couple outings where I threw three or four innings just because those were some of the positions I got thrown into.

But this year, it's more two innings or one inning. But it's more often. It took a little time to get used to it––making sure my arm was ready every day. But it's really no different than last year, and my arm feels good so far.

Cole: You got lefty Matt Kata out to end your first game in Triple-A, and I noticed you throwing some backdoor sliders. That has been a focus for you all season, hasn't it?

Eppley: Yeah, it is definitely something I'm still working on. Throwing it in Frisco with Teagarden down there––he liked that pitch a lot. It was something that I really had to focus on. I kept throwing it, kept throwing it, and now I feel pretty comfortable with it.

Cole: You didn't use any changeups in your first game up here. Are you still working on that to combat left-handers?

Eppley: Yeah. It was funny because after I struck Kata out the other night, Salty came up to me and said, ‘I was thinking about throwing a changeup there, but with the way he was swinging, it just didn't seem like the right time.' But I'm still throwing it. It's a pitch I'm still working on––still trying to get a better feel for it.

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