PEORIA, Ariz. -- A year ago, the Padres traded for Thomas Pomeranz, told him to throw more curveballs and turned him into an All-Star by midseason.It wasn't quite that simple, of course. But the Friars identified an elite Major League pitch, and they made sure it was being properly utilized.Enter
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A year ago, the Padres traded for Thomas Pomeranz, told him to throw more curveballs and turned him into an All-Star by midseason.
It wasn't quite that simple, of course. But the Friars identified an elite Major League pitch, and they made sure it was being properly utilized.
Enter Jhoulys Chacin, one year later.
The veteran right-hander will get the ball on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on Monday at 1:10 p.m. PT. Like Pomeranz a year ago, he hasn't come close to filling his potential over the past few seasons. He also hasn't been getting the most out of his premier breaking pitch -- in this case a slider.
"It's an old-school, real slider," said Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley. "There's a lot of variations of sliders -- some go straight down, some are basically cutters now. He's got the old-school, really tight, spinning slider that covers a lot of ground. It's impossible for a pitch to pick up speed as it approaches the plate -- but it looks that way. The closer it gets to home plate, the harder it bites."
Since his strong 2013 campaign, Chacin has largely struggled, limited by injuries and inconsistency. Over the past three seasons, he has posted a 4.81 ERA and was released by both the Rockies and Indians.
Chacin split time between the Angels and Braves last year. In 144 innings, he threw his slider at a clip below 22 percent.
Yet it yielded triple the swings and misses of any pitch.
And of the 362 sliders he threw for strikes, only one was barreled, according to Statcast™.
Suffice it to say, Chacin should be open to new ideas at this point in his career. And he's been very receptive to the Padres' plan.
"My slider, they want me to -- I've used it against righties -- but use it more against lefties," Chacin said. "I've been doing that in Spring Training. My slider has been working well against lefties, and I just want to keep it working during the season."
Fifty percent of Chacin's pitches came against left-handed hitters last year. But he threw only 134 sliders to lefty batters, compared with 388 against righties.
Chacin's slider is clearly his best pitch against righties. But it's also better than anything else he's got against lefties:
Righties vs. Chacin slider: .170 AVG, .202 SLG
Righties vs. Chacin otherwise: .330 AVG, .479 SLG
Lefties vs. Chacin slider: .191 AVG, .319 SLG
Lefties vs. Chacin otherwise: .283 AVG, .446 SLG
"He doesn't use it enough to lefties," Balsley said. "His slider, statistically, is a very good pitch to lefties also, whether it's backdoor or back foot, strike one or strike three."
That's the gist. Lefties or righties, ahead or behind in the count, the Padres want Chacin to be using his best weapon.
"It might be his best command pitch," Balsley said. "Most guys' best command pitch is their fastball or sinker. They know where it's going. By watching him, what I've seen when he was with the Rockies, he can spot it anywhere. I have no problem with, bases loaded, full count, him throwing a slider. He's going to throw it for a strike if he needs to."
Opposing hitters are batting just .147 against Chacin's slider over the course of his eight-year career. He's thrown the pitch only 19 percent of the time.
Chacin is still going to use his five-pitch arsenal. But at 29, he says he's learning to pitch smarter.
"I always pitched with my stuff," Chacin said. "I wasn't trying to, like now, use the reports and stuff like that. Before it was just go with my stuff and I'd be good. Now I can say I'm more of a pitcher, mixing it up."
A.J. Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.