While everyone’s excited about last night’s walkoff by Scott Van Slyke, I want to focus on the other excellently-mustachioed hero of last night’s game, Chris Withrow, who relieved J.P. Howell to get the final four outs of the night.
I’m going to be totally honest here: entering the season, I had zero expectations for Withrow ever having a career. The 2007 first-round pick had spent four seasons failing to break out of Double-A, held back by various injuries and massive control issues, and it seemed like he was getting bumped up to Triple-A this year only because a fifth season at Double-A felt unthinkable. Albuquerque’s not exactly the greatest place to turn around a career, so you might have been safer predicting that he’d be off the 40-man roster by the end of 2013 than becoming a big part of the bullpen.
Now here we are in the second week of September, and Withrow is not only in the bigs, he’s looking like he might actually have a nice career ahead of him. After a series over the weekend in Cincinnati that featured two of the baddest closers around in Aroldis Chapman & Kenley Jansen — or at least if would have if Jansen had made an appearance — Withrow didn’t look at all out of place, especially not when he struck out eight of the ten hitters he faced on the trip, none of whom reached base.
Armed at one point with four pitches, Withrow has relied mostly on his fastball (averaging north of 96 MPH, a top-ten mark in the bigs) and his slider, using his curve and change only about 12% of the time combined. As the season has progressed, he’s gained more confidence in the slider, and that’s helped him set the fastball off a little bit:
Here’s a look at that hammer in action, from Friday against the Reds:
That’s a legit big-league pitch, especially when paired with the fastball, and coming out of the bullpen, you can be successful for a long time with just that combo. But none of that really matters if you can’t get the ball over the plate, and for years as a starter in the minors that was Withrow’s biggest problem — he’d walked five batters per nine innings, basically making him Edinson Volquez.
Withrow has walked only eight in 28.2 innings with the Dodgers, and while that’s not bad by itself, he’s actually showing improvement there. Six of those free passes came in his first nine games; in his last twelve, he’s walked just two, and that’s what’s going to make or break his success. You can have a bit of wildness as a reliever, and he’s unlikely ever to be any sort of control artist, but as long as you can limit the walks while still missing bats, you’re going to be useful.
In the ever-changing Dodger bullpen, Withrow has gradually increased his role, and the idea of a young R/L/R trio of Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, & Withrow headed into next season, none older than 26 — as well as the playoffs this year, of course — is more than a little appealing.
For a guy who few thought would amount to anything, Withrow’s 2013 to date has been nothing but a fantastic success. And good lord, that mustache.