For New York Mets fans, watching Bobby Parnell in 2011 was an often unsettling experience. Many times you could not help but turn the television off and wonder how such a live arm could, at times, yield such dead results. All in all, it’s not like Parnell was terrible last season, finishing with a 3.64 ERA on the year, but his inconsistency added to the frustration and begged the question, “when is he ever going to put it all together.”
If this Spring is any indication, the answer might just be 2012. After tossing another scoreless Grapefruit League inning against the Braves on Tuesday, #39 remained unscored upon this Spring while boasting 8 K’s to just 2 BB’s. In all, the 27-year-old has turned in a great camp and is doing his best to recruit the Mets faithful back onto the bandwagon.
As I’ve said before, it would be a lot easier to fall in love with Parnell’s March numbers had we not been burned before, but this time around (fingers crossed), things might be different. The reason for such guarded optimism lay in the fact that a couple of guys with some big time experience have apparently made an impression on Parnell and essentially, taught him how to pitch. According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, both Jason Isringhausen and Sandy Koufax appear to have left a lasting impression on the young reliever.
Koufax, in his visits to camp, has preached location to Parnell. But that advice alone may not have helped if Isringhausen, in his final days as a Mets reliever last season, hadn’t taught Parnell a curveball.
“I’ve been throwing the curveball and focusing on that,” Parnell said yesterday. “It’s coming out real easy, and I’ve been able to throw it for strikes. I throw it ahead in the count and behind in the count.”
Parnell used to rely on a slider as his second pitch, but threw it so hard that hitters’ timing wasn’t disrupted. He began toying with the curveball in the final weeks of last season. The curveball’s success has allowed him to take Koufax’s advice closer to heart and start throwing high heat, with the intent of producing foul balls.
“Sandy told him he’s got to learn to pitch upstairs,” manager Terry Collins said. “I know Sandy said, ‘This guy has got too good an arm not to have guys fouling balls off of him all the time.’ If he throws upstairs, he will change their eyesight. He’ll get some swings and misses up there, too.”
I’m sure somewhere along the way someone has tried to teach Bobby Parnell a curve in the past, but maybe Isringhausen’s lesson just clicked with #39 in a way that others didn’t. As for teachings on pitching high in the zone, well a coach can tell you as much and you might hear him, but when Sandy Koufax preaches, you listen. All of this will be for not if Parnell isn’t comfortable with his new pitch and approach, but his confidence does not appear to be lacking according to Puma.
My confidence is definitely a lot higher right now, and my pitches, I’ve definitely heard a lot of good feedback,” he said. “Everybody is real high on me. As long as I can keep my confidence up and keep battling, I think I have a good chance to be a key factor on the team.”
As I said last week, perhaps a reduced role, behind the likes of newcomers Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez will be exactly what Parnell needs in order to succeed. There’s also the chance that he will push himself even harder to get back the opportunity he lost at the end of last season, when he blew 4 of his 7 save chances in September. That opportunity may not be as far off as some think. According to David Lennon of Newsday, Parnell’s strong performance this Spring gives his GM and coaches options moving forward.
I think the key thing is providing options,” Alderson said. “We’re not all in on anybody. We expect Frankie will be the [closer], but we’ll see how it goes. The nice thing is that I think by bringing in the additional pitching, it’s taken a little bit of the pressure off of Parnell and [Manny] Acosta, for example.”
Terry Collins and Dan Warthen plan to discuss the bullpen roles this weekend, and Parnell has forced himself into the late-inning conversation. When asked about the back three spots, Warthen replied, “Don’t assume anything.”
Only time will tell what lays ahead, but I’m glad the Mets haven’t given up on Bobby Parnell just yet and as he has never been short on talent, the chance for him to take his game to the next level is very real. Hopefully that time is 2012.
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