Reliever Caminero’s chances of making Pirates’ roster heating up
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Ninety-eight, 98, 98. Those were the first three mile-per-hour readings of Arquimedes Caminero pitches on the Charlotte Sports Park scoreboard Monday. The Pirates reliever was just loosening up. He later touched 99 mph against the Rays.
The radar gun, the PITCHf/x data, has never lied. Caminero throws hard. But this spring for the Pirates, after being acquired for cash considerations from the Marlins, the 27-year-old Dominican has better located his fastball.
In two shutout innings Monday, Caminero struck out four and walked none. He has walked just one batter in 10 Grapefruit League innings and struck out a team-best 16, posting a 1.80 ERA. He has emerged as a candidate to be in the Opening Day bullpen, and one NL scout said he believes Caminero will be. Caminero, who is out of options, does not look like an arm the Pirates want to risk losing.
While it’s a small sample of March baseball, it could be a meaningful change. After struggling with command in his brief stints with the Marlins and walking 4.4 batters per nine innings in his minor-league career, Caminero credited Pirates pitching coaches Jim Benedict and Ray Searage with finding delivery flaws in the Bradenton, Fla. video rooms.
“(They are) just simplifying things that were there that I didn’t notice much and now I’m noticing,” Caminero said. “I’m just going easier in my mechanics. I was trying to throw too hard. … I feel more confident. I’m hitting my target more often.”
The Pirates have targeted acquiring velocity under general manager Neal Huntington, and Caminero is another example.
In 2008, Huntington’s first full year, the Pirates ranked 18th in average fastball velocity (90.8 mph). They ranked third last season (93.2 mph), according to PITCHf/x data. Caminero’ fastball averaged 95.5 mph last season.
Moreover, the industry has no doubt noticed the importance of hard-throwing bullpens.
The Royals led the American League in average fastball velocity last season (94.2 mph). And the Cardinals led baseball (94.7). The Pirates were eighth (93.5).
It is not just a mechanical change that has helped Caminero harness his raw stuff. Pirates assistant coach Dave Jauss hinted at a philosophical one.
Caminero was hit hard by the Rays early in his outing Monday. Kevin Kiermaier lined a 98 mph pitch to right for an out, Curt Casali reached on a hard-hit error to center, and Corey Brown singled. But Caminero kept attacking and struck out two to end the threat.
“Sometimes walks come from throwing off the plate because you’re getting hit,” Jauss said. “We stress pitching to contact, so it can also be a philosophy. They were hit hard but he stayed in the zone.”
Caminero wasn’t just throwing a fastball. He was getting swings and misses with a slider and a 92 mph split-changeup.
“Caminero is getting three pitches — three pitches — over the plate. That’s what you have to do in the big leagues no matter if you throw 88 or 98,” Jauss said. “A guy going two innings is probably going to need three pitches to both sides of the plate, and that’s what he showed.”
Huntington has said “one or two” bullpen spots are open. Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Antonio Bastardo, Jared Hughes, and Radhames Liz are thought to be locks. Unlike Caminero, another candidate, John Holdzkom, has options remaining. Does Caminero think he’s done enough to make the team?
“That’s up to the GM,” Caminero said.