Carrying an ERA more than double what he’d posted in 2014 in Double-A Bowie and struggling with changes to the delivery that earned him a 40-man roster spot and had him knocking on the door of the big leagues, left-hander Tim Berry spent the first two months of the season feeling out of his rhythm.
Even worse, he was thinking about it. So after what he called a “really tough” month incorporating those changes, Berry had to go back to his old motion in an attempt to move ahead.
“It’s pretty tough, even if you can focus and do, mentally, what you want to do, if your body can’t repeat its delivery,” he said. “There’s going to be problems. I had to try to work out of that and go back to what I had success with before. In the last three outings, I feel like I’m really making a lot of progress and I’m really excited to go toe it again.”
That excitement was evident after Berry’s start Wednesday, when he pitched around a four-run third inning to post a third straight strong start.
Berry threw three scoreless innings in his first start of the season, then allowed four or more earned runs in seven of his eight starts after that. He entered his May 29 outing against Harrisburg—when this turnaround began — with a 7.66 ERA.
Since then, he’s posted a 2.89 ERA and won his last two starts. His walk rate in the three starts since he and manager Gary Kendall feel the changes took hold has halved from around four per nine innings to just under two. His WHIP, 1.81 in that span, dropped to 1.02 in his last three starts. Selective sample sides aside, there’s a reason the cutoff date matters. Berry was a different pitcher then.
The main change in spring training was an effort to pull the ball from his glove hand earlier in his delivery, which Berry admitted “is probably a good thing,” but never became natural to him. He also moved back to the third-base side of the rubber from the first-base side.
“When you start to think about your mechanics, you start to analyze yourself when you’re delivering the ball, it’s not going to be free,” Berry said. “It’s not going to be loose. So it’s nobody’s fault what happened. I feel like I tried to make some adjustments and they didn’t really work out. I’m really happy to be feeling like myself again, and be able to compete without analyzing anything and thinking about my mechanics.”
The previous version of Berry was plenty successful. His breakout year came in 2013 when, at age 22, Berry had a 3.85 ERA in 27 starts and was protected from the Rule 5 draft. A year later, he was 6-7 with a 3.51 ERA for the Baysox, with improvement expected in his second time through the league. That made his start this season that much more surprising.
Kendall said Berry “didn’t have his good stuff [Wednesday] based on how he’s been throwing his last couple outings,” but he was still sharper than he looked in his first home start of the season on April 19.
His fastball sat 90-92 mph and, save for the third inning, remained down in the zone and on the corners. His changeup was inconsistent at 80-83 mph, at times showing two-plane fade but hanging high in the zone at other times. His curveball spanned 73-77 mph and was both buried for swinging strikes and located in the zone.
Wednesday was very much in line with Berry’s arsenal before that — one that could play as a starter with refinement but can fit into a major league bullpen immediately.
That’s not the same pitcher the Baysox pitched every fifth game through the first two months of the season, though, something both he and Kendall recognize now that Berry has regained last year’s feel.
“He was over analyzing some things and thinking a lot out there instead of just letting it go,” Kendall said. "Since that, for me, what I’ve seen is I’ve seen some more crispness on his fastball. His breaking ball — he’s not overthrowing it, he’s allowing it to break. … I think things are coming together for him.”
Most important for Kendall, though, was the competitiveness after Berry was hit hard in the third inning.
“So many times, a starter goes out there and you don’t have your best stuff and it’s how you compete,” Kendall said. “He competed. Really, what he showed me was after that inning when he scuffled, he regrouped. And even with some baserunners on, he made big pitches when he had to and I really liked the look in his eyes. … He really wanted to pitch the sixth and it was maybe his best inning. It was a quick, real efficient inning. I was a little worried in that game, in that situation, because I didn't’ want him to leave 8-6 or 8-7 because he’d actually gotten his stuff together. But things are coming together for him."