Better focus leading to Shaw's higher velocity

April 21st, 2016
Bryan Shaw's cutter and slider have both increased in velocity from last season. (AP)

CLEVELAND -- The shrug and smirk made it clear. When it comes to his increase in velocity this season, Indians setup man Bryan Shaw does not have much of an explanation.

Shaw said on Thursday morning that he stuck with the same offseason throwing program that he has used previously. His workouts have not been much different, either. The only change this year -- one pointed out by Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway -- has been that Shaw has been playing catch with more focus as part of his pregame routine.

"His catch game has really improved," Callaway said. "I know [bullpen coach] Jason Bere has really been stressing that, having more purposeful throws and really striding out and doing his catch game the way he should. That's probably the biggest thing. If you're in shape and you work hard, you're going to throw a little harder."

The increase in pitch speed is one reason why the Indians are not overreacting to Shaw's rocky start to this season.

Entering Thursday, the right-hander has had three solid outings (three shutout innings with four strikeouts and no walks) and two forgettable performances (nine runs allowed on seven hits, including three home runs, in 1 1/3 innings), but his velocity has been good. Shaw's cutter (93.5 mph on average) and slider (83.5 mph) are both up from 2015, when they averaged 92.8 mph and 81.2 mph, respectively.

So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has not see anything glaring that warrants pulling Shaw from his eighth-inning role. Shaw, who posted a 2.93 ERA in 224 games across the 2013-15 seasons, has appreciated that continued faith.

"That's huge," Shaw said. "Since it's the beginning of the year, it gets inflated and everybody panics a little bit. It's two outings. You can do the rest of the year normal, the ERA gets down, everything gets down and everything gets back to where it should be. That's how baseball works."

Callaway did note, however, that the team did identify one issue within Shaw's early struggles.

During Spring Training, Shaw worked on a circle changeup and had some success with it in Cactus League games. Lately, though, the right-hander's mechanics have been negatively affected after he has used the offspeed pitch in his relief appearances. Cleveland's pitching coach said that Shaw is best when he stays with his cutter-slider approach.

"He started getting underneath and pushing the ball a little bit more on all of his pitches," Callaway explained. "And after he threw a changeup, it'd get drastically worse and creep back up. That's what we've stressed: 'Hey, get back to just slider, cutter. Get your hand on top. Drive the ball down.'"

Maybe that fix will help Shaw reverse his early-season misfortunes, because the velocity is there.

"I'm not sure what the reason is," Shaw said with a smile. "But I'm happy with it."