Harrisburg Senators left-hander Cory VanAllen worked hard in the offseason to get ready, and his diligence paid off with a very good spring training. Now, VanAllen is ready to make that next step with the Senators as a relief pitcher.
"In the offseason, I trained back home in Houston with a lot of other big leaguers," VanAllen said. "I worked with left-hander Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals."
VanAllen, who has worked with Garcia for several years, credits the St. Louis southpaw with helping him improve his delivery after an injury.
In 2008, VanAllen battled back after hurting his pitching arm and shoulder. He had a slap tear, a fraying in his rotator cuff, and an impingement in his shoulder. VanAllen rehabbed it most of the second half of the season and came back to start a couple of games so he would be eligible for fall league.
VanAllen said Garcia had a similar injury. But while rehabbing, Garcia gave VanAllen advice on how changing his arm slot and not trying to throw too hard would help lengthen his career.
"When we first signed, it was all about throwing hard," VanAllen said. "The harder you threw the better. He got hurt. I got hurt. We both made arm slot changes. He knows how hard it is, especially being a left-handed pitcher. I worked on a more downward angle for my delivery and that helped me get a little more consistent."
VanAllen features a lethal fastball (clocked last year around 93 to 94 mph), and also throws a two-seamer, curveball, slider and changeup.
The lefty said spring workouts went well and he is anxious to start the season.
"I want to carry this momentum into the season," VanAllen said. "The farm system talent in the Nationals organization is really good from top to bottom. It is a family-like atmosphere in the clubhouse with everyone pulling for each other. That makes everyone better."
Similar to his teammate and fellow Houston native Jeff Mandel, VanAllen is making the switch from starter to reliever - and experiencing success. But VanAllen said it took some time before the change felt conmfortable.
"It was tough at first," VanAllen said. "The big concern was how to get ready for one or two batters. When you are the starter, you have 30 minutes to warm up before game begins. The game doesn't start until you are ready.
"But I love the bullpen. It is different breed of pitcher out here. There is a lot of camaraderie with our group. It has been a lot smoother transition than I thought it would be."