SURPRISE, Ariz. — Lefty reliever Donnie Joseph was just a few pitches into his first spring bullpen workout when the reason for his frustrating command issues became apparent to Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland.
Joseph was slow to pull his hand out of his glove while the lower half of his body moved toward the plate.
The result was his arm dragged in his delivery, a problem that Joseph exacerbated by pausing his arm — a hitch — before gathering himself again to throw the ball.
Eiland went to work.
“We immediately started working on getting my arm out quicker,” Joseph said. “I think that’s what caused me to walk some people. I had a tendency to let my arm drive. My arm gets behind.”
Eiland also altered Joseph’s balance over the rubber and eliminated the hitch. It was, pretty much, a complete overhaul — similar to Eiland’s reconstruction a year earlier on another lefty reliever: Tim Collins.
Joseph was receptive.
He wasn’t just a guy who had never thrown an inning in the majors getting instruction from a big-league pitching coach; he was a guy who had averaged nearly four walks per nine innings in four pro seasons.
“That’s always been the thing on me,” Joseph said, “ever since I was drafted, is I walk guys. And especially since I’m a one- or two-inning guy, one walk can end the game.
“That’s the first thing they noticed, and the first thing we’ve been working on. I feel like it’s helped. It’s really all that I think about when I’m out there. It’s just a slight adjustment, but I feel like it’s made a lot of difference.”
Joseph, 25, hasn’t walked a batter in seven one-inning appearances while yielding just one run and three hits. Plus, the new approach seems only to have enhanced an already-nasty slider that stamps him as a strikeout pitcher.
“We did those three things,” Eiland said, “and now, obviously, he’s in the zone. He’s throwing strikes, but there are still some things we’re doing. To his credit, he’s really worked hard, taken to it and made the adjustments.
“We’re still a work in progress, but he’s improving every time he gets on the mound.”
Joseph is positioned, with his strong spring, among a handful of candidates for the final spot in the bullpen. If the club opts for a situational lefty, a likely preference, the decision could be either Joseph or Francisley Bueno.
“I can’t worry about it,” Joseph said. “If I go out there every day asking myself, ‘Am I going to make the team? Where am I going to be?’ then it’s going to affect the way I throw.
“Each day, I just tell myself, ‘OK, just try to do your job. Get three outs as quickly as possible.’ Every game after I’ve pitched, in the dugout I’ll tell myself: This outing is over with. Let’s focus on the next one.’
“That’s just the mentality I have, and wherever God places me this year is where I’m supposed to be.”