O’s bullpen righty Shawn Armstrong on his winter adjustments

Orioles bullpen right-hander Shawn Armstrong saw his performance fall off last year. Over four days in January at an O’s mini-camp in Florida, the coaches had him make some changes and adjustments.

He feels it has already paid off and that his progress will continue during the upcoming season. In his first four years in the big leagues, in parts of 2015 through 2018, he pitched to an ERA of 2.95 in 53 games with a WHIP of 1.138, a walk rate of 3.1 and a strikeout rate of 8.2 per every nine innings.

Then in 2019, he posted an ERA of 5.13 with the Orioles in 51 games with a WHIP of 1.546. He averaged 4.3 walks and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He got off to a good start and recorded an ERA of 1.50 in his first 17 Baltimore games, but not could keep it going. Not long after last year ended, he reviewed his season with pitching coach Doug Brocail and director of pitching Chris Holt.

Shawn-Armstrong-Delivers-White-Sidebar.jpg“That is what my November consisted of with Holt and Brocail, just working on and seeing what I needed to do better,” Armstrong said. “Where my mistakes were and where I was getting beat. Think we all agreed on some things and the progress we’ve made with mechanics and pitches and shape (of pitches) - I’m excited to go out there and see how it will go. I feel very comfortable with my delivery and my off-speed right now.”

He made those comments Sunday morning, and then looked pretty solid during the game against Boston. In his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game, Armstrong pitched a 1-2-3 third inning, getting a groundout, popout and swinging strikeout. He threw 16 pitches and topped out at 93 mph on his fastball.

Earlier, I had asked him to point out some issues that he and the coaches identified.

“I think it’s a mentality of slowing the game down, first and foremost,” Armstrong said. “When I was struggling last year, I didn’t do a good job with that. Staying in the moment and going pitch to pitch. Those little things.

“The shape of the curveball was more a slider last year. Working on the spin to get more depth and have it play off my cutter. And just the arm-side misses overall with my pitches. You know, we changed a little bit of how I set up on the rubber to allow my hips to be free and work easily down the mound. I can’t even repeat my old delivery now. It doesn’t feel comfortable. What they’ve done seems free and easy.

“Is it a perfect recipe right now? No. But I’d say it’s night and day different from where I was in January when we worked here for four days. Able to drive through the target better.”

The coaches got very in-depth with him, Armstrong said, and provided some information he was not aware of.

“They even pointed out some things where I was tipping pitches as well,” Armstrong said. “There are eyes everywhere now in this game. If you can find you were tipping a pitch, why not dive into (fixing) that.

“We also made some changes with the shape of the cutter, the shape of the breaking ball. Just to play off my fastball. We’ve got that nailed down pretty good right now. TrackMan (data) and my live BP showed that it was right back to where it was in previous years. I’m focused less on velocity now than attacking. Attack, attack, attack. When I do get ahead, my numbers are pretty good.”

Armstrong also noted that last season, while he gave up an opponent batting average of just .235 in the first half, that went up to .330 after the All-Star break.

“In my whole career, it was never like that.” he said. “I know it is not all delivery based. But something was going on. With their help, it was fun to see the why. Why was this happening? It all made a lot of sense in how they explained it for me.”

Armstrong previously had some limited big league success in smaller sample sizes with Cleveland and Seattle. A 3.53 ERA with Cleveland over 39 games from 2015-2017 and a 1.23 ERA with the Mariners in 14 games in 2018. Now he feels ready to produce for the Orioles. He enjoys being on this young team, which he says has a collective great attitude and outlook every day.

“You go in the clubhouse each and every day and you wouldn’t know we are a losing team,” he said. “That says a lot for us. We play hard every single day. It says a lot about us and the future of the Orioles and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”

Armstrong had a strong first spring outing yesterday as he tries to prove his winter changes will take hold and help him to a better 2020 season.

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