Varnadore Showing His Versatility

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – Derek Varnadore is having an easier time finding the strike zone this season than he is solidifying a role on any particular pitching staff. He began the year as a starter for Auburn University before shifting to the bullpen mid-season. Now he's doing it the opposite way in Staten Island.

When the 22-year-old right-hander was asked if he prefers to start or relieve, his response was the kind that would invoke music to coaches' ears at any level.

"I've started all my life but I like being able to do both. I kind of guess I'm a utility, and I like it. It gets me out there more," Varnadore said.

After two record-breaking seasons at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in 2009-10, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Varnadore was adamant about pitching in the SEC before taking his career a step further.

He found a home at Auburn, where he excelled his junior season by leading the team in wins, innings, and strikeouts – a feat that hadn't been accomplished at the school since 1999.

The Marlins selected him in the 17th round following that year, but he elected to stay with the school in his final year of eligibility.

"I wasn't comfortable leaving school yet," Varnadore admitted. "I didn't feel like it was the right time to start my career. Auburn was welcoming me back with open arms and they made me feel great about it, so I was happy going back, and I think I made a great decision because I'm happy to be here."

His decision was nearly detrimental as unexpected struggles on the rubber caused the Auburn manager to assign Varnadore to late-inning relief duty. Some thought it was a costly decision that would impact his draft value, but his ninth round selection by the Yankees this most recent draft proved he was still a capable pitcher.

Varnadore emerged in Staten Island this year as a dependable bullpen arm, issuing only six walks and 29 strikeouts in 30 innings with a 3.00 ERA. His strong work ethic and familiarity as a starter earned him a place in the rotation once a spot opened up.

"Because Black went up to Charleston and then Flight [missing a couple starts], we had two open spots, so he was the guy," manager Justin Pope said about the move. "Varnadore threw really well, so he may stay in the rotation for us. We'll see what the Yankees want to do but he's done great every time out."

In his debut start on August 8th, Varnadore tossed five scoreless innings while allowing only one runner to reach base via a hit.

"I felt good," Varnadore said of his performance, "I just look at it as another start. I did it all year down at school and all before then, so it's just another day. I just try to keep everything simple and keep the ball down in the zone and they get themselves out really."

He's been shakier in four starts following that outing with an ERA nearing six, although hitters have hit only marginally better against him [.235] as a starter than as a reliever [.220]. Batters aren't striking out nearly as frequent either, but that doesn't bother Varnadore so long as he's able to stretch his innings out.

"I like strikeouts, but if I can do that and keep my pitch count low then I'll take that too," Varnadore said. "So I was happy to be able to do that."

Aside from a fastball that rests in the low to mid-90's, potentially hitting 96 when it's on, and a sharp slider, the key for Varnadore is pounding the lower third of the strike zone with his sinker.

He's given up five homers in 53.1 combined innings, which is second highest on the team. It's not a concern though for pitching coach Carlos Chantres because he likes Varnadore's aggressive demeanor.

"Pitching up in the zone, it's going to happen. They're not machines. But they learn from those mistakes," Chantres explained.

"But I think he's got a very good sinker, along with his slider. The best thing about Varnadore for me is that he throws a lot of strikes. He goes right after these hitters, and he makes them swing the bat."

Chantres isn't tinkering with Varnadore too much. He seems content with the progress Varnadore has been able to make over the course of the season.

"Delivery stuff, over the head mechanics with his balance and stuff like that. But pretty much I'm trying to keep it the same just so he can continue to have success," he said.

As important as it is for a pitcher to be mechanically sound, most will tell you it's as equally important to have the right mental preparation going into every outing. That becomes far more challenging for someone like Varnadore who's made the switch from starter to reliever on multiple occasions in just one season.

"When I'm coming out of the bullpen, I can throw a little harder because it's just shorter," Varnadore said, "So it kind of just makes it a little easier because it's just the three innings or whatever."

Even while if he is conserving his energy to pitch deeper into ball games now, that doesn't change Varnadore's fundamental approach.

"I'm just trying to be aggressive with my fastball and just keep the ball down in the zone, and especially with these wood bats hitters get themselves out. That's just a huge thing. You can do a lot with just a fastball here," Varnadore concluded.

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\r\n \r\n\r\nWhen the 22-year-old right-hander was asked if he prefers to start or relieve, his response was the kind that would invoke music to coaches' ears at any level.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've started all my life but I like being able to do both. I kind of guess I'm a utility, and I like it. It gets me out there more,\" Varnadore said.
\r\n
\r\nAfter two record-breaking seasons at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in 2009-10, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Varnadore was adamant about pitching in the SEC before taking his career a step further.
\r\n
\r\nHe found a home at Auburn, where he excelled his junior season by leading the team in wins, innings, and strikeouts – a feat that hadn't been accomplished at the school since 1999.
\r\n
\r\nThe Marlins selected him in the 17th round following that year, but he elected to stay with the school in his final year of eligibility.
\r\n
\r\n\"I wasn't comfortable leaving school yet,\" Varnadore admitted. \"I didn't feel like it was the right time to start my career. Auburn was welcoming me back with open arms and they made me feel great about it, so I was happy going back, and I think I made a great decision because I'm happy to be here.\"
\r\n
\r\nHis decision was nearly detrimental as unexpected struggles on the rubber caused the Auburn manager to assign Varnadore to late-inning relief duty. Some thought it was a costly decision that would impact his draft value, but his ninth round selection by the Yankees this most recent draft proved he was still a capable pitcher.
\r\n
\r\nVarnadore emerged in Staten Island this year as a dependable bullpen arm, issuing only six walks and 29 strikeouts in 30 innings with a 3.00 ERA. His strong work ethic and familiarity as a starter earned him a place in the rotation once a spot opened up.
\r\n
\r\n\"Because Black went up to Charleston and then Flight [missing a couple starts], we had two open spots, so he was the guy,\" manager Justin Pope said about the move. \"Varnadore threw really well, so he may stay in the rotation for us. We'll see what the Yankees want to do but he's done great every time out.\"
\r\n
\r\nIn his debut start on August 8th, Varnadore tossed five scoreless innings while allowing only one runner to reach base via a hit.
\r\n
\r\n\"I felt good,\" Varnadore said of his performance, \"I just look at it as another start. I did it all year down at school and all before then, so it's just another day. I just try to keep everything simple and keep the ball down in the zone and they get themselves out really.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe's been shakier in four starts following that outing with an ERA nearing six, although hitters have hit only marginally better against him [.235] as a starter than as a reliever [.220]. Batters aren't striking out nearly as frequent either, but that doesn't bother Varnadore so long as he's able to stretch his innings out.
\r\n
\r\n\"I like strikeouts, but if I can do that and keep my pitch count low then I'll take that too,\" Varnadore said. \"So I was happy to be able to do that.\"
\r\n
\r\nAside from a fastball that rests in the low to mid-90's, potentially hitting 96 when it's on, and a sharp slider, the key for Varnadore is pounding the lower third of the strike zone with his sinker.
\r\n
\r\nHe's given up five homers in 53.1 combined innings, which is second highest on the team. It's not a concern though for pitching coach Carlos Chantres because he likes Varnadore's aggressive demeanor.
\r\n
\r\n\"Pitching up in the zone, it's going to happen. They're not machines. But they learn from those mistakes,\" Chantres explained.
\r\n
\r\n\"But I think he's got a very good sinker, along with his slider. The best thing about Varnadore for me is that he throws a lot of strikes. He goes right after these hitters, and he makes them swing the bat.\"
\r\n
\r\nChantres isn't tinkering with Varnadore too much. He seems content with the progress Varnadore has been able to make over the course of the season.
\r\n
\r\n\"Delivery stuff, over the head mechanics with his balance and stuff like that. But pretty much I'm trying to keep it the same just so he can continue to have success,\" he said.
\r\n
\r\nAs important as it is for a pitcher to be mechanically sound, most will tell you it's as equally important to have the right mental preparation going into every outing. That becomes far more challenging for someone like Varnadore who's made the switch from starter to reliever on multiple occasions in just one season.
\r\n
\r\n\"When I'm coming out of the bullpen, I can throw a little harder because it's just shorter,\" Varnadore said, \"So it kind of just makes it a little easier because it's just the three innings or whatever.\"
\r\n
\r\nEven while if he is conserving his energy to pitch deeper into ball games now, that doesn't change Varnadore's fundamental approach.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm just trying to be aggressive with my fastball and just keep the ball down in the zone, and especially with these wood bats hitters get themselves out. That's just a huge thing. You can do a lot with just a fastball here,\" Varnadore concluded.
\r\n
\r\n

\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n\r\n
\r\n

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\r\n

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