Rays to play to reliever Badenhop's strengths

Rays to play to reliever Badenhop's strengths

Rays to play to reliever Badenhop's strengths
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Burke Badenhop didn't set out to add a sinker to his repertoire of pitches. But the Rays right-hander had enough sense to adopt the pitch when he recognized he had one.

"I didn't even throw [the pitch] in college," Badenhop said of his sinker. "I didn't even throw a breaking ball. I threw a four-seam changeup in college.

"One day I started throwing a two-seam playing catch. And I'm like, 'This doesn't look like much.'"

While that wasn't exactly a "Eureka" moment, Badenhop didn't ditch the pitch and continued to try it out during his first Spring Training with the Tigers in 2006.

"I was getting swings and misses, which was odd for me," said Badenhop, who was drafted by the Tigers in the 19th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft out of Bowling Green State University. "At the time I was throwing around 87-88 mph. I couldn't see it move, which is actually a good thing. If I can see it move, the hitter can see it move. But I was tying guys up decently."

Like a scientist upon making a discovery, Badenhop proceeded cautiously, using the sinker only on the inside part of the plate to right-handers where the ball broke down and into them. And he threw the pitch away to left-handers.

"Halfway through that [2006] season I started throwing the pitch on the other side of the plate and found that I was having some success with that," Badenhop said. "And by '07, it's all I threw.

"It's kind of a late bloomer-type thing. But I'm like, 'Hey, I'd rather have it happen when you're making money to play than early on. It's developed more and more.'"

Badenhop, 28, was acquired from the Marlins in exchange for Minor League catcher Jake Jefferies on Dec. 12. He went 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA in 50 games for the Marlins in 2011.

He stands 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and had 51 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings with just 24 walks in 2011. In 151 Major League games, he is 13-15 with a 4.34 ERA. He began his professional career with the Tigers, but went to the Marlins in the trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit on Dec. 4, 2007.

The Marlins used Badenhop as an all-around reliever. In deference to Miami, the Rays see him as a guy who can use his sinker to get the ground ball when needed.

"[The Marlins] didn't necessarily see me as a ground ball [pitcher]," Badenhop said. "That's just kind of how I got my outs. Obviously that was a plus, but I think Andrew [Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations] and the [Rays'] front office traded for me, not because I'm a versatile guy, but because of the nature at which I get my outs."

Badenhop allowed just one home run last season, and his 74.2 percent groundball percentage ranked sixth highest among National league relievers.

"The Marlins were like, 'This guy can go one inning for us or back-to-back nights, or if we need him to go four, he can," Badenhop said. "And that was a valuable asset for them. But the way the Rays run their 'pen, I think I'm more valuable in terms of how I get my outs. And they're a much better defensive team. Stats will show that. So obviously, I'm more valuable on the mound when I have a better defense behind me.

"That's of the utmost of importance to me. I'm going to strike out a decent amount of guys, you know. But I'm not going to strike out 10 per nine [innings] or nine per nine. I'm having the guys hit the ball and keep it in play. And it makes sense. When guys are in the right spot and when guys can make plays, I'm going to have more success. So it's not rocket science. It's just logical and it's great."

In addition to giving the Rays a sinkerball pitcher in their bullpen, Badenhop also gives the Rays a reliever who offers hitters a little different look. The righty describes his delivery as "high three-quarters," and he noted that he "kind of slings the ball a little bit."

"I'm not the type of pitcher for every bullpen," Badenhop said. "But the Rays think I am for here. I think I fit well. I'm really enjoying my time so far and the fact they look at stuff that way and think that I'm a valuable piece."

Rays manager Joe Maddon likes what Badenhop can give a bullpen.

"Guys like that are really nice to have, who can come in and stop things immediately by putting the ball on the ground," Maddon said. "So it's really up to us and me to be watching that game closely to put him in the optimal moment as often as possible."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.