CHARLESTON, WV – James Marvel walked off the mound and back into the dugout last night after the fifth inning, disappointed about giving up three runs. His manager, Wyatt Toregas, went over to him and told him his night was finished. He then told Marvel that he was being promoted to Bradenton, which is a nice way to get over the three runs allowed.
“He’s earned it and deserves it,” Toregas said after the game.
Marvel doesn’t have the most eye-popping numbers, but had earned the promotion with his play recently, along with some of the adjustments he has made.
The Pirates drafted him in the 36th round out of Duke in 2015. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and they gave him $150,000 to sign and finish his recovery with the Pirates. He made his pro debut last year in Morgantown, but saw a lot of inconsistent performances, which is common for a guy just returning from Tommy John.
Toregas has managed Marvel both seasons, and has seen the difference between last year and this year.
“He’s two years out of surgery now, so his arm is feeling as good as it’s felt since the injury,” Toregas said. “Last year he was kind of at the mercy of his arm. He’d come out some days, and when it was working with him, he’d pitch very similar to how he’s pitching now. And he’d have days where he would have dead arm. He’s had less days of the dead arm, and a lot more days of having good stuff. That’s led to some of his success.”
This year, Marvel has seen some inconsistent performances early, but lately he has been doing well, mixing in all three of his pitches, and learning when to make adjustments when one of those pitches is off.
“I’m just a better pitcher after a lot of innings under my belt that I didn’t have pre-last year,” Marvel said. “Even from the beginning of this season to now, I just feel like a more complete pitcher. I feel like I’m pitching with three pitches anytime that I want in the count, which I think has helped me tremendously. In the past, I’ve kind of gone where I haven’t had that feel. To have those three pitches I think have helped me.”
Marvel has always had the fastball — a sinker that sits in the low-90s and generates a lot of ground balls. This year he has been using his four-seam more often in order to disguise the sinker, and force hitters to look both high and low for a fastball.
“He’s using his fastball differently,” Toregas said. “He’s primarily a sinkerball guy, but he’s been using more four-seamers lately. I think what’s happening is he understands that he can’t go sinker, sinker, sinker, because the hitters are looking for it. He started mixing in his four seamer, he’s been mixing in the two, and it gives him an option to go to the other side of the plate and elevate, or come back with the sinker.”
Along with the fastball adjustments, Marvel has made some adjustments to his changeup. His results this year against lefties haven’t been bad, and that’s one thing I noticed last night. Delmarva stacked lefties in their lineup, but Marvel was able to limit the damage, all while striking out seven batters.
Marvel said he has learned the importance of throwing the changeup early, even if he doesn’t have a good feel for the pitch. Just showing that he has other pitches helps keep opponents further off the sinker. But just throwing the pitch wasn’t the answer for Marvel with the changeup.
“I felt good starting the season with it,” Marvel said. “I lost the feel in the middle for a little bit. [West Virginia pitching coach Drew] Benes has been great working with me. He worked on some different grip stuff, some mentality when I’m throwing it. I changed up my grip a little bit, something I’m more comfortable with, and it’s kind of come back in the second half. I’ve been really comfortable throwing it in any count.”
Marvel made the grip change right before the All-Star break. He used to throw a more traditional two finger changeup, with his middle and ring finger across the seams. He now places his index and middle fingers on the outside of the seams, while bunching his ring and pinky finger next to the middle finger to take pressure off the ball. The grip is similar to how he threw it in college, and something he’s more comfortable with.
“With this one now, I feel more consistent where if it’s 1-0, or 1-1, or I need something on the ground that is going to have them a little off balance, that I know I can go to it,” Marvel said.
Marvel’s changeup is still a work in progress, as you’d expect from a pitch he has used for about ten starts. However, he’s showing comfort with it, and that’s true even when it isn’t working, like last night.
“It’s been good for him the majority of his outings,” Toregas said. “It’s his third best pitch, but when he gets a lineup of lefties like that, he needs to use it. Tonight it was kind of staying up, and kind of fading. Whereas when he’s throwing it good, it has a little bit more velo, and the spin will take it down. Tonight, it just wasn’t spinning at the rate that he’s used to.”
Marvel stopped throwing the changeup early and switched to the curveball. He then brought the changeup back and got the feel for it again by the end of the outing.
“That changeup, when it’s on, is a weapon,” Toregas said. “But then his ability also to say ‘I don’t have it tonight’ and be able to mix it up. All of that leads into it. The lefties are struggling against him.”
The common theme here, both with mixing in the four-seam fastball more often, and improving the changeup, is that Marvel is looking for ways to keep opponents off the sinker. That is his bread and butter, and if he can keep opponents guessing, the pitch will only be more effective. He’ll get a chance to try out the new approach against the next level for about a month, seeing how he fares against more advanced hitters in the Florida State League, while also getting a shot to help Bradenton in their playoff push.