CLEVELAND -- Tom Gorzelanny was searching for an answer. The left-handed reliever was struggling mightily on the mound last season for Detroit and needed to figure out a way to get back on track in a hurry. Former Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones had an idea."He said, 'Have you ever
CLEVELAND -- Tom Gorzelanny was searching for an answer. The left-handed reliever was struggling mightily on the mound last season for Detroit and needed to figure out a way to get back on track in a hurry. Former Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones had an idea.
"He said, 'Have you ever tried throwing sidearm?'" Gorzelanny recalled.
The lefty pitcher had toyed with that approach sporadically in the past, but he never experienced consistent enough results to stick with it. In a mound session with Jones, Gorzelanny tried it again and saw that his slider had a sharper break and his changeup had more drop to it. The pitcher decided to take on the project, which is one reason he is in an Indians uniform now.
Following a stint at Triple-A last season, Gorzelanny returned to Detroit's bullpen for the final two months with his lower arm slot. He was not completely comfortable yet with the mechanical change -- one that is difficult to make in the middle of a season -- but he made a pair of appearances against Cleveland, catching the eye of manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
"When he pitched against us for Detroit last year," Callaway said, "Tito and I were like, 'Wow, this is pretty good.' It was like 91, 92 [mph] from a lower slot. He came and pitched against us and I think [Michael Brantley] came back like, 'Whoa, that's different. That's pretty good.' And we went into the offseason saying, 'Hey, we'd like to have that guy.'"
Francona knew that Gorzelanny's overall numbers last season (5.95 ERA in 48 games) might create a situation where Cleveland could acquire the lefty on a Minor League contract with a spring invite. That is precisely what happened, with the Indians inking Gorzelanny to that type of deal in December. After a stay at Triple-A Columbus, Gorzelanny joined the Tribe's bullpen on Wednesday.
"I remember we were in Detroit," Francona said, "and I was like, 'We need to keep an eye on this, because with his inflated ERA, maybe this is a guy that will slip to being a non-roster invite. And it's a guy we think can fit in a bullpen.' Fortunately, we did get him."
Over the last two months of last season, Gorzelanny limited left-handed batters to a .138 average (4-for-29) and .460 OPS. That was a dramatic improvement over his showing in the first three months, in which the lefty gave up a .279 average and .799 OPS to lefty hitters, leading to his demotion to Triple-A Toledo.
Gorzelanny continued to work on the consistency of his release point with Cleveland this spring and -- after learning he would not be on the Opening Day roster -- the lefty continued that process in Triple-A Columbus. In 19 outings, Gorzelanny posted a 3.38 ERA in 18 2/3 innings, in which he struck out 19, walked 11 and held lefties to a .156 average.
"It got better as [last] season ended," Gorzelanny said. "I knew having an offseason to work on it would be a lot better. Being able to go through spring, I felt good with it, was successful with it. ... Now that I've gotten to this point, I feel light years ahead of where I was when I started this and I feel stronger and more confident with it.
"I feel just as good as I did when I was throwing overhand. I think it was a good change, a smart change, and something that could extend my career a little bit."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.