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Best relievers come in small packages

KANSAS CITY -- Last season, Tim Collins walked a lot of batters,

He walked 48 of them, to be exact. That was particularly troubling, considering Collins -- the Royals' rookie left-handed reliever -- threw just 67 innings.

But this year, things are different.

Collins is in his second year in the big leagues, and after some drastic adjustments in Spring Training, the walks are down, the strikeouts are up and he's one of Kansas City's most reliable bullpen arms.

This season, Collins has walked just seven batters through 21 2/3 innings. He has fanned 32 hitters in 2012, leading all American League relievers. His ERA is down to 2.91, and that strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.57 is good for one of the top 20 marks in the AL.

"I put in a lot of work in Spring Training ... simplifying my mechanics to help me repeat a lot more and be more consistent throwing strikes. It's helped a ton," Collins said. "Cutting the walks down and throwing a lot more strikes, it's also helped me get a lot more swings on balls that I wouldn't get last year."

Pitching coach Dave Eiland, who's in his first year with the Royals after serving as the Yankees' pitching coach for three seasons, is responsible for the changes.

"We straightened out his alignment," Eiland said. "We took some of the rotation away from him and also lowered his front side. We also moved him from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side of the rubber. That was all designed to help his command, also give him a little bit better angle vs. left-handed hitters."

Eiland said the changes weren't all made at once. He said he gave Collins one thing to do at a time back in Spring Training. He said Collins bought in right away, and that his hard work has paid off.

"At first it was just addressing what we thought the problem was, and that was not being square," Collins explained. "There was so much going on trying to deliver the ball to the plate that if one thing goes wrong, it's a lot harder for me to throw strikes. We simplified it a lot, put my foot more flush on the rubber and just kind of did a lot of basic stuff. [Eiland] explained it as, 'If you do a lot of little things right, you're going to get bigger results, better results.' So I tried to buy into that right away, and it worked right off the bat. There's no reason not to stick with it."

Collins is absolutely right. The changes in his delivery have led to changes in the outcome on the field. Collins is almost a third of the way to the innings total he posted last season, and he's allowed just seven walks, seven hits and seven runs. His ERA a year ago was 3.63. This season, he's allowed runs in two appearances.

And the strikeouts have come in droves. Collins has four outings this season where he's struck out three or more batters. His most impressive stretch came over two games earlier this month against Texas and Baltimore, during which he struck out seven of nine.

The odds might have not necessarily been with Collins to begin with. At 5-foot-7, he is the shortest pitcher in baseball. In fact, no other pitcher is shorter than 5-foot-9. There are only two position players 5-foot-7 or shorter: San Diego's Alexi Amarista and Houston's Jose Altuve, the shortest player in the Major Leagues at 5-foot-5.

Standing tall: Players in MLB 5-foot-8 or shorter
Height Player Position Team
5-foot-8 Tony Campana OF Cubs
5-foot-8 Johnny Giavotella IF Royals
5-foot-8 Maicer Izturis IF Angels
5-foot-8 Mike Fontenot IF Phillies
5-foot-8 Jimmy Rollins IF Phillies
5-foot-8 Josh Harrison IF Pirates
5-foot-8 Chone Figgins OF Mariners
5-foot-8 Rafael Furcal IF Cardinals
5-foot-7 Tim Collins P Royals
5-foot-7 Alexi Amarista IF Padres
5-foot-5 Jose Altuve IF Astros
A change in staffing might have been a change for the better in the case of Collins. Eiland replaced last year's pitching coach Bob McClure, who spent six seasons with the Royals and now coaches with the Red Sox, and Collins said that Eiland was just the kind of coach he needed.

"He's awesome. He's the complete opposite of [McClure]. And I love [McClure], but Dave's more of a hands-on guy, and that's something that I needed this year as far as doing the mechanical adjustments," Collins said. "Having Dave around and telling me when he sees something go wrong ... By the time I get in the dugout, he knows the adjustments that I need to make. It's been awesome having him around."

Eiland says that while there's always room for improvement in everybody, Collins has reached a point where he has really gotten it.

"It's a lot of muscle memory now, but if he gets a little bit off, he feels it, he's able to make an adjustment. Once guys are able to do that, then you know they've got it," Eiland said.

Collins certainly seems to have it right now.

Kansas City Royals, Tim Collins