Sox using Swarzak in high-leverage situations
CHICAGO -- It's not often you see an athlete make a dramatic shift to their game eight years into their career.
White Sox reliever Anthony Swarzak has been a lot of things in his big league career -- a starter, a reliever, an in-between guy -- but the righty had pitched enough, entering this season, where it was fair to make a decision as to what caliber of pitcher he was.
The White Sox invited Swarzak to their big league camp as a non-roster invitee in Spring Training with the hope that he'd, at best, shore up the bullpen. Injuries to key relievers such as Nate Jones and Zach Putnam have thrust Swarzak into a high-leverage role. He's thrived, posting a 2.41 ERA in 35 appearances before the All-Star break and turning himself into a potential trade chip in the process.
Swarzak said he came into this year as a brand-new version of himself. Instead of being someone who's tried to pitch to a situation, he's now focused on doing whatever he can to get each individual hitter out.
"I've figured out over the years what's successful, and I'm trying to harness that and get that right away when I come in," Swarzak said. "Early in my career, coming out of the bullpen in the third inning, my job is to get early contact and eat up innings. That's not my job anymore. My job is to come in and get outs."
This shift in mentality has led to Swarzak thriving in high-leverage situations. He's allowed just 27 percent of inherited runners to score this season, including just three total inherited runners scoring since the start of June.
"He's shown that he could do it," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "He's commanded the zone. Stayed down in the zone. Used his slider very effectively. Hasn't been rattled by too much. We've tried to put him in situations [with runners on]."
Physically, Swarzak has seen added life in his fastball emerge from being thrown into such situations. His four-seam fastball has an average velocity of 94.9 mph this season, a near mile per hour increase from 2016 and the highest average velocity of his career. He's also altered his delivery, creating a downward throwing plane that has made pitching low in the zone devastating for hitters.
"I've been trying over the past few weeks to try to get the ball down a little more," Swarzak said. "As a pitcher, when you're getting the ball down a lot, and then you don't get it down, then they swing. If you're never getting the ball down, they never swing at the fastball. Until they do, and they hit it for a homer."
Swarzak could find himself in yet another new position in coming weeks -- trade bait. With the reliever making less than $1 million this season and free agency pending, he presents a cheap option for a contender in need of bullpen depth.