It’s early in Spring Training and there’s a lot that can happen between now and when camp breaks at the end of the month, but veteran reliever Josh Osich, a non-roster invitee who was outrighted off the Cubs’ roster in October, will be given every opportunity to earn a job in the bullpen.
“Speaking with him, he knows what makes him successful,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He knows what he's needed to work on to take his game to another level. I was really pleased with the way the ball was coming out the other day, the velocity was there. The cutter, which he's always had. I know he's working hard on his changeup. He's in a really good spot and has a lot of good years left. He's in a really strong position to show what he can do.”
Osich, 32, spent the 2020 season with the Red Sox and Cubs, posting a 1-1 record and 6.38 ERA over 17 games (one start). He was traded from Boston to Chicago on Aug. 31. He signed a Minor League deal with the Reds in December.
“[The Reds] are really helpful,” Osich said. “They’re not pushing one thing to work both ways. They’re trying to do analytical stuff and how you feel about certain things and what works best for you. They’re grouping everything together and have guys who have been around a long time, guys who haven’t been around a long time, and they’re putting all their minds together to see where everybody is at and get to the best place for everybody.”
Osich struck out two in one scoreless inning against the Indians in his first Cactus League appearance on Feb. 28. He followed that with one inning against the Dodgers in Wednesday's 4-4 tie, allowing two runs on one hit and a pair of walks.
“I thought his stuff looked just as good as the other day when maybe the results were a little bit better,” Bell said after the game Wednesday. “The big thing was I thought he looked really good. I know he wasn’t as happy with this one as he was his first outing, but to my eyes, I meant what I saw. I told him it was another good outing for him, really, the way he threw the ball.”
“My whole thing this year, especially in Spring Training, is just try to see if my velo will come back a little bit with all these mechanical changes,” Osich said. “I know my cutter is going to be there, and it gets hit just because of the fact that I was throwing it the majority of the time. If I can throw more than one pitch for strikes, it’ll make that pitch even better. It’s going to come down to, I’m just trying to get a little bit of velo back, and then it makes my other stuff even better, because now I can throw more fastballs.”
Osich’s fastball velocity averaged 95.1 mph in 2016 and has decreased in velocity in each of the seasons that followed. He said knee surgery in '16 and the faulty mechanics that he developed as a result of favoring the knee are to blame for the drop. Last season, Osich’s fastball averaged 89.5 mph.
“When I came into the league, I was upper 90s, and if I can get into that mid-90s range and sit there and stay right there, I would be really happy with that,” he said. “I’m not expecting myself to get back to the 97, 98, 99 range. I would like to see myself in the 94, 95, 96 range. My first outing was 93-95, so I’m pretty happy with that.”
Fastball velocity matters. How Osich fares against left-handed and right-handed hitters will also help determine his fate at the end of March. Last season, right-handed batters slashed .304/.373/.587 against him, while left-handers hit .212/.257/.394. For his career, lefties have hit .210/.281/.378, while right-handed batters have hit .296/.371/.527. While the term “left-handed specialist” is obsolete because of the three-batter rule, being effective against lefties does have its perks.
“I think it's important to have a guy or two on the team that can really be effective against left-handed hitters,” Bell said. “You look at the lineups we face, in the division even, a lot of the middle of the orders have their best hitters left-handed. There might be a right-hander mixed in there, most of the time there is, but if you come in for an inning, you're going to come in and face two of the best left-handed hitters, and having the tools and having the ability to get left-handed hitters out is still at the top of the list.”