Changing things up: Sewald hopes to ride new pitch to All-Star level

March 11th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz -- Take a look at closer ’s arsenal through his first four Cactus League appearances of 2024 and you’ll glean something new: a changeup.

Sewald hasn’t thrown a changeup with any kind of regularity since the 2020 season, which he spent most of at the Mets’ alternate training site. Upon arriving in Seattle ahead of 2021, he rode his fastball/slider combo from non-roster invitee to the closer’s role. Now, he’s looking to reincorporate the offering as a way to reach even further heights.

“I've been pretty good the last three years, I would say, as humbly as I can -- I don't need a third pitch,” Sewald said. “But if I got a third pitch that was plus and it turned me into an All-Star, that's obviously the goal. If it can make me into an All-Star, then it was worth trying something new.

“I feel like it's a low-risk, high-reward type of idea. If it works out, great; if it doesn't work out, that's totally fine.”

Sewald didn’t throw a changeup in his fourth Cactus League outing during the D-backs' 6-5 loss to the A's on Monday, but his frame was so efficient -- 14 pitches, nine strikes -- that his unblemished spring ERA stayed intact.

“He's so consistent, you know what you're gonna get when he steps on the mound,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “He's landing all his pitches and he's gonna just stay absolutely engaged.”

Early returns on the pitch -- which offers a seven-to-nine mph discrepancy from his fastball -- are promising. Of the three changeups put in play, Sewald has notched four outs -- a flyout, ground-ball double play and groundout. Despite 65 saves, a 2.95 ERA, 136 ERA+ and 12.2 K/9 rate over the past three seasons, Sewald has yet to find himself included among the game’s elite at the Midsummer Classic; an expanded arsenal for a club expected to be in the thick of things in the National League would surely put him in that conversation.

Comb through some of the advanced statistics that prove valuable when measuring a back-end of the bullpen arm, and Sewald ranks near the top. His xERA (2.75), xBA (.189), average exit velocity (85.9 mph), K rate (32.1 percent) and hard-hit percentage (29.9) all ranked among the 94th percentile or better across the Majors last season -- and that was with the dynamic of being uprooted at the Trade Deadline.

Despite that success, batters hit his heater better than they had the previous two seasons -- .220 BA, .323 SLG, 28.4 percent whiff rate; all the weakest output the offering has delivered since he became a full-time closer. The inclusion of a changeup would be a boon not just for the sake of having a third pitch, but it could even further unlock his heater.

“I need something to drop to make my fastball look even more like it rises,” Sewald said of his changeup. “So that's kind of the point -- that people can’t cheat to my fastball. But if I had something I could throw that goes in the complete opposite direction to change the pace, that would be obviously ideal.”

Sewald’s fastball velocity averaged 92.2 mph last season, a mark he’s yet to reach once in the three spring outings where Statcast data has been available. But the 33-year-old is unperturbed about any radar readings that are below the norm.

“There's a million differences,” Sewald said of Cactus League outings vs. the regular season. “It's like, the last game I pitched [before camp] was Game 5 of the World Series in front of 50,000 people. And now you're throwing in the third inning -- it's just not the same.

“So that's part of like trying to establish, ‘OK, what does my stuff look like now?’ But I'm gonna throw a lot harder once we get into games that really matter. These games don't count; the ones in November count. So I’m trying to not use bullets as much as possible here.”

Following Monday’s outing, Sewald has a few left in the tank before the bright lights of Opening Night turn on. In total, it will be fewer than five months since the right-hander will have thrown a career-high 70 2/3 innings (including postseason) en route to aiding the D-backs in making their first World Series appearance in more than two decades.

“I'm obviously trying to throw it as many times as possible,” Sewald said of his changeup. “I have that luxury where I can go out there and practice. And then I’ll lock it in and get ready for March 28.”