Gorzelanny hoping to find niche in Mets' 'pen

February 21st, 2017

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It was midway through the 2015 season when Tom Gorzelanny's ERA first spiked over 7.00, scoreboards across the Major Leagues blaring out that truth. Roughly a month shy of his 33rd birthday, Gorzelanny was considering his baseball mortality when then-Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones suggested a change. Rather than continue using a standard delivery, the left-handed Gorzelanny should try throwing sidearm in the middle of the season.

Flash forward one and a half years, and there was Gorzelanny on a Port St. Lucie mound, delivering live batting practice on Tuesday to a group of hitters, including , and . He dropped down to the side on every pitch, now an expert on the effects his delivery can have.

"It was not the easiest thing to do in the middle of a Major League season," Gorzelanny said. "Getting reps was key, and just kind of getting comfortable with it. I feel comfortable now. I know what's going to do what, what's going to break where. It's just a matter of executing."

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At the time of Gorzelanny's conversion, he was an 11-year big league veteran, mostly a starting pitcher with the Pirates and Cubs. But nothing was coming easily for Gorzelanny, whose ERA rose from 2.88 in 2012 -- the year he became a full-time reliever for the Nationals -- to 3.90 the next year and, following shoulder surgery that stole much of the '14 season from him, 7.29 at one part in '15.

By that time, Jones was already in Gorzelanny's ear about attempting a sidearm delivery. And Gorzelanny was desperate enough to try it. When he did, he noticed that his sinker and changeup featured more top-to-bottom movement, while his slider darted more sharply side-to-side. Over 33 games split between the Majors and Minors this past season, left-handers hit just .163 with one extra-base hit off Gorzelanny. Statcast™ data shows that his arm angle fell even lower as he gained experience.

"He's an experienced guy who changed his pitching mechanics to make him more effective against left-handed hitters," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Now that he's dropped down at that tough angle for lefties, we're going to see how he does in spring. But it's nice to have another veteran in camp who has done both roles, start and relieve. And I think he knows what he's got to do to get lefties out. We'll see how it works out this spring."

Still, Gorzelanny struggled to stick in the big leagues, bouncing between the Indians and Orioles. When he became a free agent after the 2016 season, Gorzelanny liked the idea of joining a postseason-ready Mets team with just one left-hander, , guaranteed a bullpen spot. Collins noted recently that he might carry as many as three lefties in his bullpen, making Gorzelanny's Spring Training battle with Josh Edgin, Josh Smoker and worth watching.

"You don't want to go somewhere where you don't have an opportunity," Gorzelanny said. "I felt like the Mets, I had a decent opportunity of making this club. I just wanted to keep that going and extend my career as much as I could. Obviously this is a really good team, and we have a really good chance of winning. I'm getting a little older now, and I still don't have a ring, and I'd love to get one. You always want to be with a team that has a good chance of doing that."