SARASOTA, Fla. - Reliever Daniel McCutchen was startled when he turned around at his locker this morning and found three reporters waiting to interview him. He probably wondered whether he had been cut.
McCutchen has flown under the media radar this spring as a non-roster pitcher invited to camp, but he's gaining attention after the Orioles convinced him to lower his arm slot.
Factor in Mark Hendrickson and Adam Russell, and it's definitely become one of the story angles this spring. (See what I did there?)
McCutchen is throwing around three-quarters now instead of over the top, though he tilts at the waist to give the impression that he's even lower.
"Something we're trying out," he said. "Rick (Adair) saw me fielding PFPs and I guess I'm pretty good at turning and dropping down. I used to be a shortstop. Just about everyone in here used to be a shortstop. I tried it out and I've liked it so far. Getting a lot of movement on the ball. Feels pretty natural. Still in the early stages of it. But we talked about it and I said I'd give it a try and I've been excited about it so far."
McCutchen is throwing his second bullpen session today since changing his arm slot. He also pitched in Tuesday's intrasquad game, hitting a minor league batter in the neck - nothing serious - walking another batter and uncorking a wild pitch. He got two ground balls to end the inning.
"The results in the game, they were fine, but my bullpen was a lot better before," he said.
"It's more my body tilting than my arm. It's a little lower than three-quarters. I feel like I'm throwing from the ground, but people tell me, 'You're just bending over.' Really, it's what the ball's doing out of my hand. The ball's moving out of my hand different. I'm getting a lot more sink with it. My changeup's good. I've got a lot to learn. I've been doing it about four days now, but it could be good."
McCutchen, 30, is getting advice from camp sidearm guru Darren O'Day, who's also counseled Hendrickson and Russell.
"I talked to O'Day yesterday and he was talking to me about control and strikes, because you get a lot more movement from down there," McCutchen said. "Being able to control it, I guess that's going to be the biggest obstacle, but so far it's felt pretty natural. It's kind of uncharted territory for me."
It's not like McCutchen has been terrible and needed to reinvent himself. He went 5-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 73 relief appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, and 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA in 36 games with Triple-A Indianapolis last season. He turned in three straight scoreless outings with the Orioles this spring before allowing five runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in his most recent appearance.
"I talked about that, too," he said. "I was in Triple-A most of last year, but I had a good year. I was in the big leagues the year before that and I had a good year. It's not like I'm struggling and I have to make a change, but it's just something I really think could take me up to the next level, where I could stop being the fringe Triple-A/big league guy. We'll see if this could be my niche."
It's the movement on the ball that most intrigues McCutchen, who made one appearance with the Pirates last season and gave up two runs without retiring a batter.
"We'll see what happens with the velocity, but I'll take more movement over a little more velocity," he said.
"I think where I'm at, I could probably go lower, but as far as the ball doing what I want it to do, in between a three-quarter and a sidearm. I really need to see it on video because I don't really even know how low I am. I know I feel like I'm low, but guys on the team have told me I'm fake sidearming, acting like I'm throwing sidearm and then sneaking it up top.
"It's different. It's a completely new delivery, completely new everything. I've been throwing over the top since I've been pitching. Everything's new, but for only doing it a few days - I've thrown one bullpen and a game once - it feels pretty comfortable. Hopefully, it keeps going well."
McCutchen could be excused for his struggles in the intrasquad game. Showalter was prepared for it, removing Taylor Teagarden, Nolan Reimold and Wilson Betemit for that half-inning. No sense risking injury.
McCutchen thinks he could pitch in a Grapefruit League game within the next few days.
"Watch out hitters," he quipped. "If I hit you on the neck, it's not on purpose."
I guess that explains why the minor league batter took his base Tuesday without incident.
Seriously, though, the ball was tailing toward his head. Good thing he reacted quickly.
"I had two strikes on him and I was trying to elevate a fastball, which I guess I should have probably practiced in the 'pen a few times," McCutchen said. "That was my first attempt at elevating a fastball. I'm glad it didn't hit him in the head, but it almost did."