Dialing down heat yielding results for Lindstrom
With new pitches in arsenal, reliever no longer relying on fastball
New Orioles reliever Matt Lindstrom is hesitant to admit it, but he's got a pretty good theory as to why he has been able to hit 100 mph multiple times over his career.
"I was kind of a juvenile," said Lindstrom, who grew up in Idaho. "We would throw water balloons at cars, and snowballs and apples. Basically, I was just long tossing my whole life. I don't really want to attribute that to why I have a good arm, but I'm suspecting it has something to do with that."
When you don't get to throw baseballs in the winter -- Lindstrom and his friends would have to clear snow off the fields to play -- you have to throw something, and the 32-year-old right-hander and his friends made good use of an average snow depth of more than half a foot in the winter, with around four inches typically still on the ground in March.
It's not as cliched as the Rexburg native throwing potatoes, a joke fellow Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg -- who was teammates with Lindstrom in Florida and housed him the first few weeks this spring -- has invoked a few times, and with good reason. There are not many professional baseball players from Idaho, fewer still are those with Lindstrom's experience -- he is entering his sixth Major League season -- and ability to consistently hit the upper 90s.
But while velocity has never been an issue, staying healthy and learning how to avoid being just a hard thrower has, and they are two questions Lindstrom has been vocal about addressing the last few years.
"He's obviously improved quite a bit from when I played with him," Gregg said of Lindstrom, who has thrown a lower percentage of fastballs in each of his past three seasons in an effort to get away from being purely a flame-thrower with erratic command.
"He was just a kid who threw hard, it was his rookie year when we first played together. And now he's obviously learning how to pitch and how to take care of himself and prepare himself."
On his fourth team in four years, Lindstrom -- who has also lowered his walk rate the past three seasons -- spent his first camp with the Orioles tinkering with changes to his arsenal, looking for a heavier slider. He found one thanks to Baltimore reliever Luis Ayala -- his teammate in Florida in 2009 -- who showed him a grip he picked up from Yankees closer Mariano Rivera that resulted in a mid-to-upper-80s pitch. The reasoning is simple: get away from the scouting report -- which has Lindstrom as a fastball-only guy who struggles to put hitters away -- and get better results.
So far, so good. The Orioles' bullpen has been a strength in the team's first 16 games, and Lindstrom hasn't allowed an earned run in his first six outings, a 7 1/3-inning span.
On Saturday against the Angels, Lindstrom entered with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning. He kept the inherited runners from scoring, using eight sliders -- including four in a row to strike out Erick Aybar -- and 11 sinkers in a 21-pitch outing that featured only two four-seam fastballs.
"I know he made a real close friend of [starter] Jake Arrieta with those runs [saved]," manager Buck Showalter said of Lindstrom's 1 2/3 scoreless innings Saturday. "His command [has improved]; I think he's starting to settle in emotionally. You come to a new club and new organization, after being traded. Other than his first outing, he's thrown the ball real well since then. He's trusting his stuff."
Lindstrom is also learning to trust his body, a hard lesson for the hurler -- a self-described "high-energy guy" who has dealt with right elbow, shoulder and back ailments over his career.
"He's about as hard working as it comes," said starter Jason Hammel, who was traded from Colorado along with Lindstrom in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie this winter. "Sometimes, it's to the point where you have to stop him, tell him to take a break."
Lindstrom, who dealt with lingering back discomfort already this spring and in the first week of the season, is trying to make an effort to back off workouts when necessary and be more in tune with how he's feeling.
"I'm starting to feel like me again," Lindstrom said on Sunday. "Sometimes, just my type of personality doesn't allow me to be smart about what my body needs. That's kind of why I've kind of waned in my career at some point every season, because it's like full-go all the time, and with the type of personality I have, that can be detrimental.
"I just try to listen to myself [now], whereas before I didn't do that, I didn't care, I was full-go all the time. So I'm becoming smarter and learning how to get through a season."
Typically, 32-year-old Major League pitchers aren't receptive to learning new pitch grips and adjusting their workout schedules. But Lindstrom -- who feels he's ready, like a lot of his teammates, to take the next step forward in his career -- has never been your typical hard-throwing right-hander.
Despite the promise of being drafted out of high school, Lindstrom spent two months at the end of his senior year learning Swedish before heading to the country of his ancestors, going back to the town where his great-grandfather emigrated from to spread the teachings of his Mormon faith.
The two-year sabbatical from baseball -- where he played catch just once on a random soccer field -- helped improve Lindstrom's people skills, particularly in going door-to-door with mixed results, and put baseball in perspective. When he returned home, Lindstrom had added weight, which he turned into muscle and used to crank up his fastball from the mid-90s to over the triple-digit mark in 2006.
Lindstrom's fastball still sits in the upper 90s, and his new outlook on pitching could make him a consistent weapon for the Orioles' bullpen, which picked up the most innings in the Majors last season.
"I love Lindstrom," Hammel said. "You are going to get a power arm, but you are also getting a character. And you got to have a character in the clubhouse. We are a young team, we need guys around that have some time, and I think [the Orioles] did a good job bringing those guys in."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.