Pirates pitching guru Benedict created a ‘Vanimal’ in Worley
ST. LOUIS — The first time Pirates pitching mentor Jim Benedict helped right-hander Vance Worley, it was a long-distance relationship.
About eight years ago, Long Beach State coach Troy Buckley asked Benedict for advice about a few raw-but-talented pitchers. One of them was Worley, who had a 1.45 WHIP and a troublesome 0.76 walk-to-strikeout ratio as a college freshman.
Through watching a lot of video and making several phone calls to California, Benedict was able to offer some solutions. Worley lowered his WHIP, vaporized his walk-strikeout ratio and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies after his junior season.
In April, Worley turned up in Bradenton, Fla., for extended spring training with the Pirates after being jettisoned by the Minnesota Twins. His mechanics were a wreck. His confidence was shot.
It was up to Benedict to fix him again.
“A lot of innings had passed from when Vance was in college and when his trouble started (in the majors),” Benedict said. “Even though I didn’t meet him the first time — I did it with video and over the phone with the coach — I had a feel for him. So I knew he’d gotten away from everything.”
Benedict’s title with the Pirates is special assistant to the general manager, but it really should be something simpler: pitching guru. He was the one who set Francisco Liriano on course for his comeback season in 2013. He reinvented Charlie Morton after the right-hander had Tommy John surgery.
“It’s almost weird, huh?” Worley said with a laugh. “He’s that good. He’s very knowledgeable. I wouldn’t be back here today if it wasn’t for Jim Benedict. I’d be down in Triple-A or doing something else with my life.”
Every day for four weeks, Benedict and Worley met in the morning to talk. They dissected mechanics and discussed techniques. And they watched a lot of film.
“He can look at it for five minutes and pick it all apart within 10 pitches,” Worley said. “He’s out there filming you while you’re playing catch, while you’re doing your flat ground (work), while you doing your bullpen, while you have a sim game.”
Benedict even acquired video from Worley’s junior year at Long Beach State. Slowly, he transformed Worley into the pitcher he used to be.
“He needed to get back to his old delivery, which was more the college delivery that he brought into pro ball and that pushed him all the way to the big leagues,” Benedict said.
Worley had elbow surgery in 2012 and never stopped compensating for the injury. By unconsciously trying to protect his elbow, his throwing motion got out of whack. Benedict lowered Worley’s leg kick — the foot always must be under his knee — and squared his shoulders.
“When he kicked out before, he rotated,” Benedict said. “But his body type and the pitching angles he creates do not allow for rotation. He’s vertical. All the things that create a vertical arm slot are what we went back to. It wasn’t hard to diagnose once I saw it.”
One day in early May, Benedict watched Worley’s workout, then nodded.
“He said to me, ‘You’re going to go to Indy, and you’re going to do things right. You’re back. Trust it,’ ” Worley recalled. “He was absolutely right.”
Worley went 3-2 with a 4.20 ERA in seven outings with Triple-A Indianapolis. On June 15, with Liriano and Gerrit Cole on the disabled list, Worley made his Pirates debut.
On Tuesday, Worley (2-1, 2.28 ERA) is slated to make his fifth start, against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We really felt confident he could find his way back,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He quickly got in a good place. The starts he’s given us have added more tangible evidence for those who didn’t believe he’s heading in the right direction.”