Lakeland, Fla. — Sometimes you don’t need someone banging on trash cans to know what pitch is coming.
Veteran right-hander Zack Godley, the former Diamondbacks starter trying to win a rotation spot as a non-roster invitee with the Tigers, knows that all too well.
“Over the course of last year, guys just didn’t have to honor anything other than the curveball,” Godley said. “They knew that was what I was going to throw for the most part, that was the only thing I could throw for a strike and that’s what they sat on.”
In 2018, Godley threw his elite curveball 40 percent of the time. Opponents hit .191 against it with a 40 percent whiff rate. Godley also threw his sinker (he doesn’t throw a four-seam) and cutter more effectively.
Last season, when his ERA ballooned 5.97 and he lost his spot in the rotation and ended up being traded to Toronto, he threw the curve 42 percent of the time with opponents, looking for it more, hit .240 and the whiff went down to 34 percent.
“The biggest thing is to get my fastball back in the zone consistently,” he said. “Throw it where I want, in and out, and get it back down in the zone. If the fastball was low, hitters knew it was going to run out of the zone. They didn’t have to honor it. They just spit on that and waited for the curve.
“And as good as my curve has been in the past, if guys are looking for that and they know it’s going to be close to the zone, anybody can hit it. Especially big-league hitters.”
Godley spent time this offseason tweaking his mechanics with high-performance pitching coach Eric Cressey.
“I threw two bullpen sessions with him and everything was working good,” he said. “The ball was coming out the way I wanted it to. I was locating it where I wanted to. Everything I was doing the last couple of years was consistently getting me away from what I had been doing before.
“In doing so, it created a lot of issues. I’m just trying to get it back.”
Fortunately for Godley, his new manager had a front-row seat for one his best seasons. Ron Gardenhire was the Diamondbacks’ bench coach in 2017 when Godley posted a 3.37 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.
“He was in the rotation at Arizona with Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker and I’ll tell you what, if you look at the other hitters, they hated facing him,” Gardenhire said. “He misfired just enough to scare the living fire out of you. And he’s got that Pac-Man ball that just chews up bats.
“If we can find that again and he can do those things, he can be a big, big plus for us. I really liked him. He’s a tough guy, a gamer, and he has really good stuff. Hope he can find it back.”
Presently, the Tigers rotation is tentatively set with Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Spencer Turnbull, Ivan Nova and Daniel Norris. Godley and Tyler Alexander will be given the opportunity to wrest a spot away.
Godley has an opt-out in his contract for the end of March.
Longhorn vs. Aggie
This might go on all year, and you kind of hope it does.
Gardenhire is a proud alum of the University of Texas. He was asked about reliever Alex Wilson, who obtained his master’s degree from Texas A&M over the offseason.
“If he got it from A&M, it really doesn’t mean anything,” he said, cracking up a room full of media. “That degree won’t help anybody other than an Aggie.”
A couple of years ago, Wilson snuck into Gardenhire’s office at Comerica Park and decorated it wall to wall with A&M posters and paraphernalia. Gardenhire has had a full year to contemplate his revenge while Wilson was playing in the Brewers and Cubs systems.
“I love the guy, he’s one of my favorite players,” Gardenhire said. “But there is this little thing between us. He’s an Aggie and I’m a Longhorn. So if you want me to say real positive things about him, maybe he could get some people out.”
Yes, most players come into spring training in the proverbial best shape of their lives. But left fielder Christin Stewart didn’t have to talk about it. All you had to do was look. He’s put more mass on his upper body, particularly in his arms, while also trimming some excess body fat.
“I didn’t do anything super unique,” he said. “I just took a little better care of my body, lifestyle-wise.”
Stewart missed two weeks at the end of April with a quad injury and the entire month of August with a concussion after he slammed into the wall in Anaheim. His first full season in the big leagues was limited to 104 games and 416 plate appearances.
“There were highs and lows and I try to look back on the positives,” he said. “It’s hard to grade myself on a full year because I really didn’t have one.”
Still, 10 home runs, 40 RBIs and 103 strikeouts was less production then both he and the club had expected.
“I just try to take the good with the bad and keep pushing forward,” he said.
He begins camp as the every day left fielder, but with non-roster invitee Jorge Bonifacio and newly signed veteranCameron Maybin in the mix, nothing is etched in stone.
“Oh, I am not established, by any means,” he said. “I’m still a pretty young kid (26). I’m excited for the challenge. I’ve always had to compete at every level. I’m ready to go.”
Around the horn
All the pitchers and catchers on the camp roster were on the field for the first official workout Wednesday. Gardenhire said there were no medical issues.