April was a month to forget for Phil Irwin. In the month, Irwin had an 11.57 ERA in 14 innings, with 20 hits allowed.
“When you take a year off from surgery and don’t get as many innings in the spring as you want, I was just struggling to find the timing on my delivery,” Irwin said. “I just did not get the feeling of comfort on the mound early in the season. It obviously resulted in a bad April.”
However, Irwin turned it around in May. He started the month with 7.1 shutout innings, after being sent to the bullpen after a pair of April outings. The right-hander struggled last night, with three runs allowed, but has a 3.52 ERA on the month. He also has eight strikeouts in 7.2 innings in May.
“Right now, I have been working on my delivery,” Irwin said. “Everything feels good. My timing and my arm feels good. It was just feeling the ball out front. I did not have a lot of feel for it at all.”
Due to this lack of feel, Irwin’s walks were way up as well. While he walked a staggering ten hitters in April, he has yet to allow a free pass in May. He also hit four batters. Irwin said that this was because he “literally did not know where the ball was going.”
The fastball command is back for Irwin, but most importantly, he said that the command of his patented curve ball is back.
“For a lot of guys, if the fastball feels good, everything else feels good,” Irwin said. “For me, it is the other way around. It has always been to build my delivery around my curve ball. If the curve ball feels good, everything else does. If the fastball doesn’t feel good, I throw a curve ball to get back to the fastball. It’s really backwards. The curve ball felt awful (early in the season).”
Irwin said that he can tell how the curve ball is by how the hitters are seeing it and the contact that they make. He also said that they were getting good wood on it and not chasing the ones in the dirt. With this, batters were hitting an astonishing .339 in April against .200 in May. He also allowed three home runs and a double in April. In May, he has kept every offering inside the park and allowed just one double.
The biggest mechanical adjustment for Irwin is getting to the back leg and generating power from it. He said that this also allows his arm time to get around in the back. When he is late in this action, the ball will spray back to the right-handed hitters. Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer concurs and said that they have been working on it.
“His timing was off a little bit,” Filer said. “He was a little bit out in front of himself. He is now getting back up over the rubber. He is staying in the box and his arm is catching up and he is throwing downhill. Also, his breaking ball has come back, which is the biggest thing.”
With the command and the feel coming back, Irwin has also seen an increase in velocity. He went from around 86 MPH in his first few outings to 90-92 in his last appearance. He said that he has “not seen that (velocity) for a while.”
Even though he did not pitch early in May when he was recalled by the Pirates for bullpen help, Irwin said that the organization showing confidence in his abilities was nice to see and boosted his confidence tremendously.
“It was good for me,” he said. “It got me back into feeling comfortable and good about baseball again. It can change your mindset whether you throw or not. It shows that the organization does still believe in you still, even though I hadn’t been pitching as well as I want to. I came back down and everything has been good since.”
In addition, Irwin is pleased with working out of the bullpen. He said that it has been in discussion for the past two years. He realizes that two-pitch hurlers don’t tend to have long-term success in the big leagues. Despite the success at most levels in the organization as a starter, he said that “all they have to do is sit on the fastball if they recognize my curve ball” as a starter in Pittsburgh. Irwin is also pleased that he can pitch and help the team win every day.