Armstrong’s adjustment adds to ability to attack hitters

PHOENIX - Shawn Armstrong’s solution began as a lengthy heart-to-heart pitching conversation with teammate Jimmy Yacabonis on the night that the Orioles flew into Arizona.

Armstrong didn’t have a clean outing in his last six appearances. Didn’t feel right for much longer. A “three-to-four week inconsistent patch,” as he calls it.

“I felt like at times I had the shape to my pitches and kind of revert right back to backup sliders, backup breaking balls and so forth the next outing, and then the next one would be better,” he said. “Just really started diving into video.”

Armstrong-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgHe also sought advice and support, made an adjustment on the mound and dominated over two innings Tuesday night in Phoenix. Six batters faced and retired with two strikeouts.

Yacabonis listened to Armstrong and sympathized, his last appearance a disaster with seven runs allowed in one-third of an inning. They hoped to find a solution together. And with the usual aid of pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach John Wasdin.

The basic solution for Armstrong was to do less with his delivery.

“Me and Yacabonis were actually sitting in the room Sunday night when we got here, just talking for an hour and a half about pitching,” Armstrong said. “When I started talking to Broc the next day it was like, I just want to eliminate my leg kick. Just to kind of simplify what I’m trying to do.

“It’s like Was says a lot, it’s really hard to repeat violence - with the swing, pitching, anything. Just trying to keep it simple so that I can stay loaded on my backside and then explode to the plate. Just eliminating the leg kick and trying to keep my lines, because my lines are so important. Really helps me get to my full extension and not just standing upright and reaching. Kind of throwing through the catcher and getting more life on the ball.”

Armstrong gained velocity on his fastball against the Diamondbacks, his four-seamer averaging 95.8 mph, per brooksbaseball.net, and touching 97. He averaged 92-94 this season. And he noted other changes.

“On the analytics side of things, just looking at it right after (Tuesday) night, it was an instant jump from where I had been,” he said. “My spin rate was up on every pitch I threw. And for me, that’s what I need is my perceived velocity. I sat 97 for the first time in two years, so I think it’s just simplifying it and letting my legs do the work and traject my arm through the zone. Hopefully, it works out the way I want it to, like it did last year toward the end of the season, and just run with it the second half.

“I can’t say enough about Was and Broc working with every guy this year. Since I’ve been here they’ve done a phenomenal job with me and everyone else. Just trying to stay on track and communicate with them.”

Armstrong is trusting a combination of video and new data to sharpen his extension point. Where he’s releasing the ball. To gain consistency with it and place himself in a better position, figuratively and literally, to get the maximum play out of his pitches.

“I can instantly see more life on my cutter, and being able to throw the curveball at the bottom of the zone, which is something I had struggled with in the past three or four weeks,” he said.

“Analytics are good, but as Was said, if you can’t feel it you can’t repeat it. And I was trying to feel something that I couldn’t quite feel, and (Tuesday) night the feeling was, it felt easy, and that’s what I’m looking for. No pitcher wants to go out there and grunt and give every effort. It should be free and easy so you can repeat the delivery on a consistent basis. I was very happy with the way I felt, and I can tell today the difference in my body just after the outing.”

Armstrong’s release point normally is 6 feet, 6 inches to 6-8 for his fastball and cutter. The curveball’s anywhere from 6-2 to 6-4, which is normal for pitchers who shorten up their arm on a breaking ball.

“It’s just the perception of standing up versus really getting out in front,” he said, “and it’s the difference of the way my ball flight was on fastball, cutter and especially curveball at the bottom of the zone.”

Meanwhile, the Orioles must add a position player to their roster later today after optioning third baseman Rio Ruiz to Triple-A Norfolk.

I thought they’d remove a pitcher, with the designated hitter back in play in Anaheim, but Ruiz is off the 25-man roster.

Perhaps it’s due to his wife expecting their first child. His defense at third base seems to have value, and he’s a left-handed bat to counter Renato Núñez and Hanser Alberto.

Jace Peterson wasn’t in Norfolk’s lineup last night, which could mean nothing. I just took a glance and found Ryan Mountcastle, for fans who jumped to that conclusion. Also playing for the Tides were Austin Hays, Mark Trumbo, Mason Williams, DJ Stewart and Christopher Bostick.

I’d think that Ruiz’s replacement would have been on a flight to the West Coast, but maybe not. It’s never wise to assume.

Trumbo played right field and hit a two-run homer. He was removed for a pinch-hitter after three at-bats.

And finally, Tom Eshelman has been scratched from tonight’s start in Anaheim and replaced by Yacabonis.

Left-hander José Suarez is starting for the Angels.

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