Converted starter Mandel ready to relieve in Harrisburg

Harrisburg Senators right-hander Jeff Mandel is winding down camp in Viera, Fla., and excited to get started in Double-A next week.

The 6-foot-3 200-lb., Houston, Texas, native said his transition from starter to reliever has gone well. He is seeing positive results in spring training from the time he spent playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.

The former Baylor Bear was in the bullpen for back-to-back innings Monday and Tuesday and reported the outings went well.

"I threw pretty well in Puerto Rico and got used to the change from starter to the bullpen," Mandel said. "Everything feels really good, my arm feels good, we are all ready to go. There was plenty of talent in Puerto Rico, quite a few big league guys. It is their baseball league, so they are serious about winning the championship. That kind of competition was great for me."

Mandel ran down how his pitches have looked in spring training and he is excited about adding a cutter to his repertoire.

"I have been throwing my two-seam and four-seam fastball, looking to force contact," Mandel said. "I added a cutter in the offseason, trying to get my breaking stuff a little tighter. I really like throwing it. I have been able to throw it inside to lefties and with two strikes on a hitter. It is really my pitch to lefties and has helped me tighten up my slider. My velocity has been good for both of those pitches. I am also throwing my changeup and I am really happy with the movement I am getting from my sinker, even in windy conditions here in Florida."

Mandel said the pitching talent the Nationals have at Double-A Harrisburg is fortified because of the experience the staff has. Some Senators relievers are former starters.

"We got a lot of great arms in the bullpen, some of which have experience as starters like myself - Erik Arnesen and Cory VanAllen," Mandel said. "So it is not a normal 'pen filled with guys that have trouble throwing strikes. These guys have had plenty of innings and know their stuff a lot better."

Mandel also has thrown to the Senators catchers Devin Ivany and Derek Norris and is comfortable with both.

"Ivany is a great catcher," Mandel said. "I have worked with him quite a bit, especially in Syracuse. Because of that, we are on the same page. Devin does a good job when he sees that something might not be working as well in warm-ups; he knows the right time when to bring the pitch back in a game. He does a good job of receiving low pitches as well."

Mandel said Norris has worked very hard on getting his defense to catch up with his hitting.

"(The) last two years, (Norris) has really become a true catcher," Mandel said. "He focused on hitting out of high school. They really worked with him on his defense. You really love to work with guys who have a great future ahead of them. You can tell he is thirsty for it. He would always communicate with me what I would like him to do each inning. That is big for a pitcher."

Mandel grew up as a Houston Rockets fan and loves his Bears, who had a good run in last year's NCAA tournament. He said he likes VCU over Butler on Saturday in the Final Four, and UConn to beat Kentucky. Mandel wants to watch Saturday's games before deciding on his championship pick.

The Senators face the Single-A Hagerstown Suns on April 5 in Hagerstown, Md., then open against the Bowie Baysox on April 7 in Harrisburg.

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