CHARLESTON, WV – It’s safe to say that Logan Sendelbach is different. Surrounded by the rest of the West Virginia Power starting rotation, he looks positively scrawny, clocking in at 185 pounds against Mitch Keller’s 195, Bret Helton’s 215, and Dario Agrazal’s 216. With the stuff he’s throwing, though, the lean righty doesn’t need the big body to create velocity.
Instead, Sendelbach, who has arguably been the second-best pitcher on the West Virginia Power, relies on deception. He uses a sinking fastball as his primary pitch, which, at 86-92 MPH, won’t overpower anyone. However, for A-ball batters used to seeing pitches that zip on a relatively straight line, the late breaking motion is enough to disrupt a swing.
As with many pitchers who lean on a specific pitch, if Sendelbach doesn’t have complete control of his fastball, he is susceptible to getting hit around. Last year, opponents had a line of .272/.340/.428 against Sendelbach. He gave up at least one extra base hit in all but two of his 11 starts with the Bristol Pirates.
In his first few professional starts, he was “trying to be too perfect at times in tough situations.”
“I just need to relax in those situations and trust what I have and fill up the strike zone,” Sendelbach said.
His last few starts for Bristol, though, gave the young pitcher some hope. Over his last 15 innings, Sendelbach gave up four hits and two earned runs.
For the most part, Sendelbach has relaxed and executed in 2016. In seven of his 11 starts with the Power, he has given up two runs or fewer. He has given up extra base hits in only half of his starts, although he still shows flashes of his tendency to allow hard-hit balls. Even after Wednesday’s rough outing against the Lakewood BlueClaws (more on that game later), opposing batters are hitting .245/.294/.373. His walks per nine innings have fallen to 2.1 from 2.9 last year, and his WHIP has decreased as well, from 1.42 to 1.16, good for second-best among Power starters.
Pitching coach Matt Ford attributes this success to Sendelbach’s scholarly approach to the game.
“When we do video reviews, he’s constantly asking questions, and he wants to know how he needs to get better every day,” Ford said. “It’s pretty fun to watch.”
The added control of the sinking fastball comes directly from the extra hours put into bullpen sessions and video reviews.
“It kind of just gets easier after repetition,” Sendelbach said.
Wednesday’s matchup, however, would expose the weaknesses in the young hurler’s game. In seven innings — Sendelbach’s longest start of his career — he gave up six runs, four of them earned, in a slugfest that saw 11 doubles and five home runs in total between the two teams.
Throughout the start, Sendelbach’s sinker floated up in the zone, and the Lakewood hitters took advantage. Only twelve of his 83 pitches crossed the plate at the knees or below, an indication of how little the sinker was sinking that afternoon. To compensate, Sendelbach relied on his slider to produce strikeouts against Lakewood’s free-swinging batters, and he tied his season-high of seven strikeouts. Backing off the sinker, which by its very nature falls out of the zone often, he managed to turn in his third start without a walk.
Knowing Sendelbach’s propensity for floating his sinker, Ford has been working with the studious pitcher to prevent days like Wednesday from occurring too often. Sendelbach’s approach to his bullpen sessions on his off-days has impressed Ford.
“He’s a guy who goes about his workday like a pro,” said Ford. “He asks questions. He wants to learn, and he’s very hungry to keep learning.”
Sendelbach echoed that focus.
“I’m just trusting what I put in during the workweek,” he said. “Just focusing on keeping [the fastball] low, and then, after establishing low fastballs, my off-speed usually plays pretty well off of that.”
Soon, that diligence will pay off. Since Spring Training, he has been experimenting with a new grip on his changeup. As that grip becomes more natural, he is looking forward to it developing into a strikeout pitch, and a pitch he can rely on aside from his sinker if he has another day like Wednesday.
Until then, Ford and Sendelbach will continue to work to keep the sinker low and hope to continue the kind of success he has had to start the 2016 season.