Left-hander Nick Raquet made some nice adjustments early in his 2019 campaign for high Single-A Potomac that allowed him to concentrate on the finer points of his breaking pitch, helping him to end up with a very positive season.
In part one of our discussion, we will break down the adjustments he made to turn his year around.
Raquet (Twitter: @NickRaquet) made 25 starts at Potomac, going 11-9 with a 4.07 ERA. But in April, he struggled to a 1-4 start with an 8.72 ERA.
“Yeah, I felt like I kind of started off slow and shaky,” Raquet said. “A lot of things weren’t coming together. I just stuck with it, worked with (Potomac pitching coach) Sammy Narron really well and came up with some things that worked for me and things that I knew I had to do to be better in the second half and the later part of the year. Things started to come together. I definitely found my stride a little bit in July and August and what little September there is. It definitely gave me confidence going into this upcoming year.”
Narron said April was not much fun for most of his P-Nats pitchers. But he said the southpaw tinkered with his delivery and started to see some good things happen on the mound.
“The month of April, not just for him, but for the whole staff in Potomac was a tough one,” Narron said. “But as soon as it was May, everybody took off. He made some really good adjustments early in the year. We were working with his delivery and getting it more consistent.
“Because he did such a good job with that, it allowed us to look at the finer points: the grip, how he was pitching people. If you are not repeating your delivery and consistently in the strike zone, it doesn’t matter what the grip of the baseball is. He finished so strong. He was one of our best starters at the end of the year, a big reason why we made that real strong playoff push.”
Raquet throws a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a curveball/slider and a changeup. A 2017 third-round selection by the Nationals, Raquet said the early season adjustment to his mechanics involved his release point.
“It was little things at first about finishing out front and making sure I saw the ball out in front of my face when I was releasing it,” Raquet said. “I wasn’t leaving it too far back, and I was getting down and through the ball and working with how my pitches play. My pitches play usually with more sink. I don’t really get a lot of rise or carry on my ball, so I have to rely on pitching down in the zone and going in and out making sure my pitches are tunneling off of each other down in the zone.
“When I was leaving the ball more up in the middle of the zone (and) I wasn’t seeing the ball out front, I was really getting hit hard. Ever since, I made that adjustment and started working on some drills with Sam to practice that and visualize that. Once I got the muscle memory down, it became like riding a bike. It led it a pretty good second half.”
But by far the biggest revelation for Raquet this season came thanks to the keen eye of Narron and the technology of a high-speed edgertronic camera.
“I was really working on my curveball this year. I kind of realized that I had a weird grip on my curveball that wasn’t allowing me to spin it the way I needed to and get the kind of depth I needed to,” Raquet said. “That was another thing that me and Sammy noticed on a video about midway through the summer. He said: ‘Let’s make a little adjustment with this curveball. I think we have a fix that can make this pretty great.’ We changed it, threw a bullpen the very next day and it was mike night and day difference.”
The edgertronic camera was not always available for each team for every throwing session. Narron said that when Raquet was throwing on the side, the camera just happened to not be in Potomac that week. But finally a week came around where the camera visited Pfitzner Stadium when Raquet was throwing on the side.
“We were working with the breaking ball and using that camera,” Narron said. “He throws a spiked curveball, a knuckle-curve. He had his fingers spread apart almost a fastball (grip), maybe even a little wider. Of course, one of those fingers was spiked and the other was on the other seam. Typically, when pitchers throw that pitch, the fingers are together.
“We noticed that and we had him just move those fingers closer together and, man, you saw some special stuff happen in a matter of a couple of throws. We did it first in the throwing program, and the next day he had a bullpen and the breaking ball improved by all the numbers that we get dramatically. He was excited. You could actually hear the difference in the spin once he made that adjustment. It went from a good pitch to now a swing-and-miss out pitch.”
Raquet, 23, said he had previously adjusted the grip on his curveball, moving his fingers to a similar position as he would if throwing a four-seam. But when they saw what his fingers were doing on the edgertronic video, they realized he could make a major adjustment in his grip.
“I was throwing this curveball and I had changed my grip awhile back,” Raquet said. “I was kind of splitting the seams and then I wanted it to spin more like a four-seam on that same axis. So I kind of rotated my grip and I ended up leaving my fingers farther apart.
“We have the edgertronic camera set up right behind me in the bullpen. We are watching this. This is like thousands of frames per second. You can literally see each finger pushing at a certain time and releasing. So obviously you can see how far apart my fingers were on this pitch. Narron said: ‘Hey, let’s just put those (fingers) together and just throw it the exact same way you do and we will see what happens. I think this is weird and I think we should do something about it.’ I was all for it because my curveball used to be my favorite breaking pitch and I guess I had kind of lost it a little bit.
“Being able to see that on the edgertronic camera the day after that bullpen and (then making) the adjustment the next time out, ... it literally worked immediately. That was pretty awesome. It might be something you miss when you are watching a bullpen with the naked eye.”
Fortified with a new grip for his curveball, Raquet saw instant results. The curveball was becoming a pitch that could get outs and not just for show.
“That definitely made a difference from the stretch, too, because it was another off-speed pitch that guys had to worry about, think about, along with the slider, which is probably one of my best pitches,” the southpaw said. “So having that updated curveball and feeling more confident with it because it was kind of a pitch that I showed when I needed to because I wasn’t really feeling confident in it.
“Then when this new one came along and it felt more like a power breaking ball, it was spinning a lot more and at had a lot better sharpness to it. That was a huge confidence boost for me, to have that second breaking ball to go along with the slider. It was something I could throw for strikes.”
Coming up next with Raquet: His slider and how it compares to Patrick Corbin’s pitch, his work in the Arizona Fall League, his reaction to the World Series title run and what he expects from 2020.