Coming off a stellar performance in the World Baseball Classic, the Orioles seemed very optimistic about Pedro Strop heading into the 2013 season. Buck Showalter leaned heavily on him through much of 2012, until Strop struggled with pitch location in September and into the postseason.
In Strop's final 11 regular season outings, he surrendered six earned runs over 7 1/3 innings pitched, issued eight walks and struck out seven. Opponents were hitting .371 against him with a .444 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and only 60 percent of his pitches were thrown for strikes.
This season seemed to begin right where 2012 left off. In his first seven outings of 2013, Strop surrendered seven earned runs over 5 1/3 innings, opponents hit .320 against him with a .316 BABIP and he threw 60 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Since that time, Showalter made a conscious effort to put Strop in less stressful situations. Over his last nine appearances, Strop has only pitched in two games in which the Orioles had a one-run lead (April 23 and May 5). Five of the nine outings were when the Orioles were trailing (April 21, May 1, May 3, May 9, May 11) and the Birds had a 6-0 lead over Minnesota during Strop's latest relief appearance.
As a result, Strop lowered his ERA from 11.81 on April 20 to 4.50 on May 12. Despite pitching in a mop-up role, Strop has shown some signs of encouragement in May. In the second of three games against the Angels, he relieved Troy Patton in the bottom of the seventh and struck out Albert Pujols looking. He then recorded a perfect frame in the eighth against Mark Trumbo, Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick. Over the 1 1/3 innings of work, 11 of Strop's 17 pitches were thrown for strikes. Pitch efficiency seems to have become the trend of late.
Over his last three outings, Strop seems more consistent in his mechanics. He's perfect over his last three innings pitched, has struck out four, walked none and thrown 69 percent of his 36 pitches for strikes. Of the nine outs Strop recorded over that span, only one ball was hit out of the infield.
When he struggled last season, the slider seemed to help him find the strike zone again. However, in his early outings in 2013, the slider would also be thrown for a ball. In looking at the PITCHf/x data, Strop's breaking ball has been particularly effective of late when his fastball creeps out of the zone.
The other important takeaway from the last three outings is that Strop hasn't taken any velocity off his pitches. He's still clocking in between 95-96 mph, but seems to be finding a more consistent release point than he did at the start of the season.
It's interesting how differently pitchers' slumps are viewed compared to hitters and the approaches a manager can take to help them find consistency. You have to credit Showalter for building Strop's confidence in May and hope that this effectiveness will translate when he finds himself and some more stressful situations down the road.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.