'The Thing' may carry Odorizzi into starting rotation
With shot at No. 5 spot, prospect works on new pitch with Cobb's help
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jake Odorizzi is competing to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation this spring, and he's hoping "The Thing" can help make that happen.
"The Thing" is the new changeup Odorizzi is working on under the guidance of professor Alex Cobb, who already has mastered the pitch to a certain degree.
Listening in on a conversation between the Cobb and Odorizzi regarding "The Thing," Chris Archer smiled before chiming in with new nicknames for the pair: "Thing 1 and Thing 2."
Appropriate monikers, since Dr. Seuss's characters from "The Cat in the Hat" cleaned up messes. If executed properly, "The Thing" should do exactly that for Odorizzi and Cobb this season.
"It feels really good," Odorizzi said. "I guess you'd call it a split more than a changeup. That's why we refer to it as 'The Thing.' That's kind of pitcher talk for what it is."
"The Thing" ate on Friday, when Odorizzi pitched an inning against the Orioles. Alex Gonzalez fouled off one and Xavier Paul watched another for strike three.
"Extremely encouraged; today was a day I just wanted to throw it a lot, and that's what I did," Odorizzi said. "It was exactly what I wanted it to be. ... Every other pitch, it seemed like I really wanted to use it to get a feel for it. There's was definitely room for it to improve. It was a good starting point today and definitely something to work on."
Odorizzi allowed no runs on one hit, a walk, and a strikeout in his first outing of the spring, employing his changeup on seven of the 15 pitches he threw.
To throw the pitch effectively, Odorizzi explained that a grip resembling the one used for a splitter is needed.
"It's a lot easier for me to throw," Odorizzi said. "It's exactly what Cobb has. It's something I thought I could use as a replacement for my changeup. And it's been good in my bullpens and live BPs.
"I've been able to pick it up pretty easy. And he's given me a lot of pointers along the way. You can't really go wrong with it when the guy who throws it is teaching you about it."
Controlling the pitch is a big factor when a pitcher dedicates himself to throwing his changeup (or another offspeed pitch), because the way offspeed pitches are thrown varies dramatically for every pitcher using one.
"You have to throw it for a strike," Odorizzi said. "You have to establish that you can throw it for a strike. And the movement's the big part of it, too.
"It's a little bit more firm than another changeup, but it's deceptive. Everybody sees how good Cobb's is, but when he throws it to people, nobody knows what it is. I felt like it was something I could incorporate into my game. I think it will be a huge weapon. I'm going to focus on it during this spring, and I think it will be a huge weapon going into the season if I can get it to where I want it to be."
Cobb noted that a good aspect of the pitch is "you can either throw it or you can't," so you don't waste a lot of time trying to learn the pitch if you don't get immediate results.
"[Odorizzi] threw it and it worked right away," Cobb said. "Once you realize that you can kind of get some movement with it, you can start manipulating it."
Cobb continues to refine the pitch as well, and he allowed that "The Thing" will show up some days and others it won't.
"The way to work on it is to not try to make it do something it's not doing," Cobb said. "Because it's either going to do it, or it's not. The grip's going to allow you to do it, and the arm angle is going to allow you to do it. So the thing you need to work on is the consistency of it.
"So what we're working on is adjustments -- if it's just too hard, or if it's up or moving too much sideways or you're not getting enough depth."
This is Odorizzi's second camp with the Rays since coming to the team in the Wil Myers trade with the Royals.
"I'm really a lot more relaxed than last year," Odorizzi said. "Things are going great. Feeling good, everything body-wise feels great."
Odorizzi would one day like to reach the point where he showed up at camp having already earned a spot in the rotation.
"It really would be nice," Odorizzi said. "I've never been able to experience that in the spring, being able to work on something and not having to worry about results."
Despite being in the midst of competition this spring, Odorizzi will continue to work to refine his changeup, while trying to compete at the same time. Every time "The Thing" eats, Odorizzi's chances of making the team will grow.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.