PITTSBURGH- When an established major league player gets optioned to the minor leagues, it can be a disappointing experience, but it can also be an opportunity for growth. For Roansy Contreras, that experience occurred on July 6.
The Pittsburgh Pirates made the proper decision by sending Contreras down to the minor leagues to figure things out after struggling for much of the season.
Contreras’ velocity was significantly down. His control was spotty and to make matters worse, his confidence seemed to disappear.
The Toronto Blue Jays faced a similar situation with the struggling Alek Manoah and sent him down to the Florida Complex League this season. The Pirates followed suit with Contreras.
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington spoke on the Contreras matter several times and mentioned moving the righty to the complex would be best.
Cherington explained that the complex offered a stress-free environment and gave Contreras a place to try new things.
One of those new things Contreras picked up was a new pitch. After his one start in Low-A Bradenton, Contreras was transferred to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he introduced a new sinker.
Contreras threw his sinker twice in the first inning on Aug. 10. His first sinker registered at 89 mph with 1952 RPMs, a 23-inch vertical break, and a 15-inch horizontal break.
On the next pitch, Contreras threw the sinker again, registering at 88.9 mph, 2010 RPMs, a 27-inch vertical break, and a 17-inch horizontal break.
The second sinker resulted in a weak groundout from Patrick Dorrian to first baseman Malcom Nuñez.
After his three innings of work, Contreras ended up throwing seven sinkers. Contreras had two out of the seven sinkers put in play and averaged 74.1 mph in exit velocity.
That’s the good news for Contreras.
The bad news for Contreras is his velocity is still down (93.4 mph average fastball velocity in his last start in Triple-A).
You can be a successful pitcher without the velocity, but you better control your pitches. With two walks in three innings in his last start, Contreras still needs to focus on that element of his game.
What could cure the velo issue, though, is adding a new pitch, like a sinker, to force weak contact.
“Anything that we do with those guys is a total collaboration with the pitching group, so this is something we will continue to talk about. As we look at pitch repertoires, making sure that we maximize what we feel our guys can best utilize.” Said Derek Shelton on introducing a sinker to Contreras.
As I said earlier, getting sent down can be a disappointing experience, and for a young pitcher like Contreras, it can feel like an uphill battle.
Sometimes it can be a slow grind, but progress is progress.
“The buildup is just the road back,” said Shelton. “As we’ve talked about with Roansy, we still look at him as part of our team, and he’s going to be an important part of our team. So it’s just building him back up. When we sat him down, we talked about the mechanics and moving down the mound, making sure that it was more consistent. I think just watching that to make sure our pitching group feels that we’re taking more strides there. As an organization, we do.”
One of the many questions surrounding Contreras is his future and where the Pirates see him moving forward.
“I think when we get there, we’ll kind of figure it out,” said Shelton. Part of it may be the necessity we have. Part of it may be how the buildup goes. There’s a bunch of factors that go into it. No. 1, we still view him as a starter, whether it’s this year or in the future. The other thing is, it will be multi-innings, whether it’s starting a game, someone opening for him, however, but overall, we view him as a starter still.”