ALTOONA, Pa. – “It took me eight seasons. It feels great.”
Casey Sadler was almost giddy when talking about his first professional nine-inning complete game, which came Thursday night in Altoona. It was only Sadler’s sixth start of the season, as he was prepared to pitch out of the bullpen all year after missing all of last year because of Tommy John surgery in October of 2015.
“It wasn’t what I had planned, that’s for sure,” Sadler said about claiming a spot in a starting rotation again this season. “I didn’t know what my plan was. I just wanted to get out there on the mound as many times as possible, and at some point if the chance came up, they were going to see what they’d do about getting me back in the rotation. Obviously, that chance came, and I felt like it came at the right time.”
Sadler said that he feels like he accomplished what he needed to while working out of the bullpen. Not only did it give him more flexibility moving forward, but he mentally needed that time to adjust back to the game. Now, he is back to being comfortable as a starter.
“That’s what I remember,” Sadler said, “that consistency and that preparation.”
Since July 17th, he began adding an inning of work each time out from the bullpen. On July 27th, he got his first start of the season and went four innings. In his fourth start of the season, he made it through seven innings with 91 pitches. On Thursday, he got through all nine with only 95 pitches.
He had thrown four separate seven inning complete games leading up to his last start; however, he never went more than eight innings in his career. Against Altoona’s division rival Bowie, he had everything working for him and got better as the game progressed. He allowed two singles each in both the third and fourth innings, saying that it wasn’t until a little later in the game that he got a good feel for all three of his pitches. After that point, he was able to work his sinker, changeup, and slider all in for strikes consistently.
“Everything was effective,” he said. “I feel like I had three pitches tonight that I could throw for strikes, and you need that to have an outing like this.”
The combination of pitches allowed him to induce 14 groundouts to only one fly out officially, and Sadler said that number should have actually been closer to 17. Pitching Coordinator Justin Meccage said that his slider was as good as he’s ever seen Sadler throw the pitch.
“I don’t know if he’s ever had the ability to execute it like that,” Meccage said of Sadler’s backdoor slider.
Even from the press box, you could see the movement on his changeup to left-handed hitters and slider to righties. Already known as a strike thrower who gets the ball on the ground, Sadler has added the ability to throw the ball past hitters, as he has struck out at least seven guys in three of his last four outings.
As an added bonus, Sadler said that he is actually throwing the ball harder now post-Tommy John surgery than he was before. Strictly throwing a two-seamer, he has reached 95 MPH regularly and has even touched 96 MPH.
“My velo is better,” Sadler said while comparing his fastball from two years prior. “Consistency is better. Going through that process of fine tuning everything, I feel better than I had before the surgery. 100%.”
The velocity isn’t the reason for his successful integration back into the starting rotation, though.
“Location, movement, then velocity… in that order,” Sadler said of pitch importance. “If you have 98, but you can’t locate 98, guys are going to hit it. If you have 88, it moves like crazy, and you can locate it well, it’s going to be really hard to hit.”
A statement like that is one that a veteran pitcher makes and completely understands. You will hear similar sentiments from many pitchers; however, a guy like Sadler has truly embraced that philosophy, especially following his comeback from Tommy John surgery.
When asked the difference between Casey Sadler now and Casey Sadler three years ago, he laughed and responded with, “I’m smarter”. Although he said it in a joking manner, he wasn’t joking at all. He knows what he needs to do to prepare for a game now. He also understands how important it is to stretch and recover properly, something that he didn’t quite fully get before his arm failed him in 2015.
“Going through that whole rehab process, you learn your body,” Sadler said. “You learn what you need to do to prepare for a game. You learn what you need to do on days in-between to get back to full strength. That’s something that I didn’t do back when I was healthy, because I just don’t think about it.”
Not only in-between starts, his execution has vastly improved, according to Meccage. Especially since he wasn’t needing to use his changeup much while working out to bullpen, his three pitch mix was at a high level.
“His execution has gotten better,” Meccage said comparing Sadler to a few years ago. “He’s gotten back in the groove, and he’s gotten more comfortable. Obviously, he is feeling much healthier.”
Sadler’s goal is to get back to Pittsburgh to contribute at the major league level. His best motivation to date arrived in April, as he and his wife Marin welcomed their first child, a daughter named Kaysen. She was named after both of her parents – the first half of “Casey” and the second half of “Marin”.
“It’s a little different now having to feed three mouths instead of two,” Sadler joked.
“I’m going to compete every day here like I’m heading back to the big leagues. That’s what you have to do. You prepare to get to the big leagues.”
They sent him down to Altoona and inserted him back into a starting rotation to be able to get more innings. The Pirates still see him as a guy who is extremely versatile, including as a starting pitcher at the highest of levels.
Sadler would still be an option to move back up to Indianapolis before the season is over, but that all depends on what happens at the major league level, according to Meccage. While in Altoona, Sadler will simply continue to improve on his craft.
“He’s grown a little bit in how he’s turned himself into a pretty good pitcher,” Meccage said. “Instead of just a sinker ball pitcher, he’s much more than that now.”