Adding a new pitch can be a tall task for a pitcher. Adding a new pitch at the very beginning of the season can be even harder, but for Orioles right-hander Spenser Watkins, his new slider has proved to be effective.
Last season, Watkins appeared in 16 games for the Orioles and featured a four-pitch mix. But this season, Watkins and pitching coach Chris Holt thought it would be good to incorporate a slider.
“The slider has been fairly new the last two weeks,” Watkins said on Glenn Clark Radio April 28. “[It’s] something our pitching coach Chris Holt had brought to me as an idea. We had messed around with some thoughts last year on it. We were working through adding the changeup and everything last year, so once we got to a point where we felt that was a good addition, we stretched out to see if we could make the ball move a little bit of a different direction … so we could go east to west.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander has made three starts so far this season, posting a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings while picking up five strikeouts. The 29-year-old did not feature his slider in his first start of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers, but he did break it out in his second start against the Oakland Athletics.
Watkins tossed five innings and allowed just two hits and one run in that start against the A’s. He featured the slider 17 times out of 67 total pitches. In his following start against the Los Angeles Angels, he went five innings and allowed just two hits and two runs. He threw his slider five times during that outing.
“There was a little bit of second guessing happening, but the work we had put in prior to that first game in Oakland where I busted it out, I felt really good with it,” Watkins said of his slider. “I felt comfortable, and I felt that I was confident enough to bring it into a game.”
Watkins was born and raised in Arizona and played college ball at Western Oregon University. He was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 30th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He spent a lot of time in the Tigers’ farm system until he was released in 2020. The Orioles signed him to a minor league contract in 2021.
Watkins made eight appearances for the Triple-A Norfolk before being called up to make his major league debut on July 2 against the Angels. He pitched one scoreless frame. He made his first major league start on July 6 against the Toronto Blue Jays, pitching five innings and allowing three hits and one run. He picked up the victory.
After the 2021 season and finally gaining some major league experience, Watkins was excited to improve in the offseason and get back to work for the 2022 season.
“Getting that first taste of the big leagues is something that every young baseball player dreams of,” Watkins said. “To get that opportunity was incredible and I can’t thank the Orioles organization enough for believing in me for that. And it just kind of segued into my offseason and made me a little bit hungrier.”
In November, Watkins re-signed with the Orioles on a minor league contract and was invited to spring training. Watkins did not crack the Opening Day roster, but his contract was selected by the Orioles just a few days into the season on April 11, and he was placed on the active roster.
The Orioles are currently 6-13, but the team’s pitching staff has taken a step forward. Last season, the O’s finished with a team ERA of 5.84, worst in MLB, but the club has a 3.87 ERA so far this season. Watkins thinks it all could have stemmed from a team meeting in spring training. Players felt they had something to prove this year.
“All of us are at a point where we’re making names for ourselves. We’re all young, we’re all new in the big leagues in a sense and we have a great opportunity ahead of us,” Watkins said. “Something in spring training, we had a really great team meeting just kind of saying, ‘You know what, expectations are one thing, but how we respond and go about our business is another thing.'”
There is also some excitement about the potential reinforcements the team could get later this year in top prospects Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez. Rutschman in particular has been a player who has been really impressive to Watkins. The two have spent time together in Triple-A and in spring training.
“He’s an absolute sponge. He soaks in every bit of info he can get from us, from other catchers, things like that,” Watkins said. “He’s got an immense feel for the game behind the plate. It’s pretty incredible and it’s fun to watch.”
For more from Watkins, listen to the full interview here:
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