Cecil debuts new sidearm delivery at camp

July 8th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- Some time during the three months away from baseball, Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux sent an email to his pitchers telling them to take advantage of the shutdown. If they wanted to try a new grip or something different on their pitches, they should. It was the time to do it.

admits he may have taken the advice a little further than Maddux intended. The lefty reliever showed up to Summer Camp at Busch Stadium last week with a whole new delivery.

In his first live batting practice of camp on Tuesday, the left-hander debuted a sidearm delivery that he worked on over the break.

“I feel like it makes me a little more competitive from down there,” Cecil said after throwing an inning of live batting practice. “It feels a lot better on my arm, not that before it hurt, but I feel a lot more free down there.”

Cecil began experimenting with the new delivery -- something he used occasionally to warm up in college at Maryland but never in professional baseball -- playing catch and throwing with Miles Mikolas in Jupiter, Fla., during the break. Near the end of each session, Cecil would throw a few knuckleballs and try out different things. Just for fun one day, he threw sidearm.

“I kind of surprised myself with how firm it was and the movement on it,” Cecil said. “So I kept going from there.”

Each time he threw, he would try out the delivery on five to 10 pitches. A week and a half before driving to St. Louis to begin camp, he threw half of his pitches overhand and half sidearm. And when he threw his first bullpen in St. Louis, Maddux watched and approved the new delivery.

“I asked him point blank, ‘Is this something that you feel is something good for me to pursue 100 percent?’” Cecil said. “Because I wasn’t going to be over top, down here sometimes. I don’t think that would be very good for my arm, so I wanted to do it one way or another.”

Cecil is in his final year of a four-year, $30.5 million contract and 2020 is his last chance to make an impact for the Cardinals. He’s only pitched about 1 1/2 seasons of that contract because of injuries, and he sat out all of last year with carpal tunnel syndrome. Spring Training this year ended a day early for him when he suffered a hamstring strain.

The 34-year-old was throwing with modest velocity in spring and, with his arm feeling good, was optimistic about his chances with the team before the hamstring strain, but when he returned to throwing after recovering from his hamstring strain, he said his pitches didn’t feel competitive to him. He wanted to bring his chances of making the roster up. Dropping the arm slot helped.

“We’ve tweaked a couple things here and there last couple days, but I think it’s really good and I think today was a good first impression,” Cecil said.

With the slant, Cecil’s curve becomes more of a “slurve, slider-looking pitch,” he said, and he thinks it’ll get better with practice thanks to Maddux’s coaching. On Tuesday, he impressed teammates and coaches with the movement and deception on his pitches, especially against lefties.

“He was around the plate, hitting with his secondary pitches for the most part, and he was able to be efficient with his pitches,” manager Mike Shildt said. “The road he’s been on, it’s been a little bit of a long one, but it’s good to see him out there and be able to compete.”