Turns out baseball isn’t just about measuring sticks. Protractors are just as vital.
That’s what relief pitcher Clay Hensley said had been the key to a resurgence this spring with the Reds, insisting it’s not just a game of inches, but also of angles.
Hensley, who signed a minor-league contract last fall, took the hill for the fifth time this spring during Cincinnati’s 8-7 loss to the Mariners at Peoria Sports Park.
A slightly lower delivery point had helped Hensley before Thursday, as he’d given up just a single earned run in seven innings. He looked closer to the pitcher who put up stellar numbers in 2010 with the Florida Marlins — finishing with a 2.16 earned-run average in 68 appearances — than the one who struggled to find the strike zone during points through the last two seasons.
The fifth time was not the charm, however. Hensley gave up a home run to Michael Morse, a three-run shot that pulled Seattle back to a 7-7 tie.
He still feels he’s better prepared for the rigors of a season after the adjustment.
“I think I ironed it out in the off-season. It’s really helped me to get a lot more command over my pitches,” Hensley said. “I feel like I’ve gotten back to the form of 2010 with my arm slot, my timing and my delivery. All that’s coming together and allowing me to throw strikes.
“It’s just one of those things where I had to make an adjustment in the off-season, drop the arm angle a little bit, and it’s allowed me to make better pitches.”
Hensley struggled down the stretch last season with San Francisco, his ERA blowing up in August and September after a solid opening to the campaign. He was left off the Giants’ postseason roster.
But Reds manager Dusty Baker said the 33-year-old has had better control, and has also been a positive person in the clubhouse.
“He’s really controlled the breaking ball, and his off-speed stuff. He’s throwing strikes. He comes prepared every day to play,” Baker said. “He works hard and it’s a pleasure to have him around. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s a very pleasant guy.”
Hensley has stiff competition to make the team with a number of right-handers ahead of him on the 40-man roster, but his strong showing should get him in the discussion when cuts are made. Even if he doesn’t make the grade, he could be a viable addition to another club.
“A lot of it is confidence. I felt like all last year and even in parts of 2011 I was just fighting to throw the ball over the plate. And now I feel like I can just let it go, throw the ball and it’s going where I want it to,” Hensley said.
Rotation rolling: While the bullpen jobs are still shaking out, Reds starters had yet to give up a home run in more than 39 innings of work. That ended Thursday thanks to Morse.
“Our starters have been very good,” Baker said. “Course, they haven’t pitched more than three innings. But it’s especially tough holding home runs down in Arizona, where the ball flies.”
Infield options? The utility infielder spot has been one of the true competitions playing out this spring, and although Cesar Izturis (.310) and Emmanuel Burriss (.286) have played well, they need to do even more in the last two weeks to unseat Jason Donald.
“Donald has the upper hand a little bit because he doesn’t have any options and he’s on the roster,” Baker said. “Izturis and Burriss are really gonna have to … you know, they’re playing great, but they’re gonna have to play lights out. They knew that when they came here.”
Donald played second on Thursday, and brought a .333 average into the game, while Burriss played third and made a great snag on a second-inning one-hopper off the bat of Seattle’s Carlos Peguero.
Extra bases: Devin Mesoraco continues to impress, knocking in the game’s first run Thursday with a two-out single to left. … Denis Phipps hit cleanup and doubled in each of his first two at-bats, once to left and once to right. He scored both times. … Billy Hamilton’s hamstring injury is improving, and Baker said he expects him to play during split-squad games on Saturday. … The Reds play another night game on Friday, hosting the Colorado Rockies in Goodyear (10:05 p.m.). Johnny Cueto is scheduled to get his fourth start. He’s worked two, three, and four innings, respectively, and picked up the win in his last outing, a 7-3 victory over the White Sox.