CHICAGO -- Earlier this season, White Sox bullpen coach Juan Nieves noticed that rookie Addison Reed was tipping his pitches. Reed had always kept his pointer finger outside his glove when he pitches.
“One day Juan was watching me throw and said on fastballs I was moving my finger,” Reed said. “It’s something that I never would have known. It’s not like I do it on purpose. It’s just something that went unnoticed.”
It was suggested that Reed put his finger inside the glove. But Reed said his finger still moved.
“He went back, looked at film and noticed that on my fastball I was moving my finger sometimes and on off-speed pitches I was keeping it still,” Reed said. “That’s something I would have never noticed unless he was there watching and that’s one of the things he’s awesome at. He watches all of us. He helps us out with everything he sees.”
Over the last few months, Reed has focused on not moving his pointer finger when he pitches. For all the success Reed has experienced early on, he’s the first person to admit that he remains a work in progress. For a young closer like Reed, who has appeared in 44 games this season, progress isn’t measured only by the end result. It’s measured in the work he puts in between appearances to the way he sees each game from his perch in the bullpen.
He gets an education in strategy on a daily basis from Nieves, who in 1987 became the second youngest pitcher to throw a no-hitter at the age of 22. Nieves’ pitching career lasted two seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s in his fifth season as the White Sox bullpen coach.
“As much as he learns (on the mound), he can also sit and really watch the game,” Nieves said. “What are the teams that tip location at second base? Is there an opposing pitcher tipping that we can help our club? Is there a catcher moving too much on fastballs and not enough on breaking balls? Can we detect that? Are their coaches giving away locations to their hitters? I mean there are so many things you can learn if you really focus on the whole picture. You learn. Because if you’re not playing you have to find a way to visually learn the game. I try to keep them in the game as much as possible.”
Along with not tipping his pitches, Reed and Nieves pointed to two other areas that the rookie right-hander has made strides in this season – adding a secondary-pitch command and refining his delivery.
Reed was a one-pitch pitcher in the minor leagues; he has been working on his secondary pitches - a change-up and a slider - since the offseason. Reed has struggled to control those off-speed pitches, but Nieves has seen improvements in during the last two months. In fact, Reed said he’s getting to the point where he feels confident he can throw the change up at any time.
“At times I could throw it but it still didn’t feel comfortable,” Reed said. “That’s the thing I’ve been working on the whole season, just kind of being able to get comfortable with it where I could throw it any count in any situation. It’s coming around.”
So is the pitching mechanic that Nieves and Cooper call ‘back to front,’ where a pitcher takes his weight from his back leg and drives it forward toward the catcher.
“That’s one thing I’ve needed to work on because in the past I sometimes fall off toward the first base side,” Reed said. “That’s one thing they preach a lot.”
Reed has converted 20 saves, the second most by a White Sox rookie in a season, and owns a 3.83 ERA. He had an impressive start to the season when he recorded 13 straight scoreless innings. Recently, he’s also converted his last five save opportunities since giving up a game-winning home run to Boston’s Cody Ross on July 19.
Nieves preaches to Reed to stay within himself. Attack the zone. Keep confident. Stay the course. Reed said that as the season wears on, the more pressure situations he can continue to experience, the better he’ll be for the long run.
“If I can get in those situations right now when I’m young I think it’s only going to help when I’ve been around for a while,” Reed said. “Even this year, they’ve put me and all the rookies in high-pressure situation, which I think is good because, one, it means they have confidence in us and two, it’s going to get us prepared when we have to be in that situation later on in the year when it might mean a little more and we won’t have nerves as if it was our first time in that situation.”