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Unique throwing motions the norm for relievers at Orioles minicamp

Sports reporter Jon Meoli reports from Orioles minicamp on the bullpen sessions of young pitchers Ariel Miranda, Andrew Triggs, Parker Bridwell, Donnie Hart and Ashur Tolliver.  (Baltimore Sun video)

SARASOTA, FLA. — One coach told them they're all unicorns, but many of the young pitchers populating the Orioles' minor league minicamp this week had a better idea for what to call themselves last year: Sling City.

Ashur Tolliver, a left-hander who describes his own unique throwing motion as part sling, part speed, part low three-quarters, said the T-shirt was all but designed. It would carry those words and a large man throwing from all the unique arm angles that came out of the Bowie Baysox bullpen last season.

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Seemingly ever since finding a gem in sidearmer Darren O'Day as a waiver claim in 2011, the Orioles' minor league system is full of pitchers whose own quirky mechanics, unorthodox deliveries and uncommon arm actions indicate they're trying to replicate that success on a larger scale.

"That's kind of who we are," manager Buck Showalter said. "We've got to put the pieces together, and we've got to make sure we have more than one guy who can serve that piece's purpose. That's why Tolliver's here. That's why [Donnie] Hart's here. That's why [Andrew] Triggs is here."

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Said Tolliver: "We had guys that were throwing down low, low three-quarters, a few sidearms from the left and right side. We only had maybe one or two guys that were just standard, over-the-top. It seems like they were the odd men out."

Indeed, as the Orioles press through their minicamp with 15 young pitchers who could figure to be a part of the major league roster this year, those with traditional motions are outnumbered.

Showalter and his staff got first-hand, up-close looks at several of the more unique motions Tuesday in bullpen sessions.

Triggs, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, and gets such extension with his large frame that he nearly lands on the grass in front of the pitcher's mound. He has a lively, low-90s sinker along with it, one that wowed Orioles closer Zach Britton in a bullpen session Tuesday.

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Tolliver, a 2009 Orioles draft pick who has overcome several injuries to regain a fastball that reaches into the mid-90s from the left side, delivers his with a slinging, low three-quarters motion that's faster than typical and allows the ball to jump on hitters.

Hart, who climbed from Low-A Delmarva to Double-A this year and pitched in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, is almost a mirror of O'Day's sidearm delivery, but from the left side.

Add in the sidearm tosses of right-hander Mychal Givens, the deception from 6-foot-6 right-hander Joe Gunkel, and a slight-of-hand delivery from left-hander Joe Beliveau, and there's almost certainly a long-term companion in unorthodoxy for O'Day in the Orioles bullpen.

The pitchers, many of whom helped the Baysox to the Eastern League championship last season, embrace their unique skills. Givens said Bowie pitching coach Alan Mills told them as much. His message?

"We're unicorns," Givens recalled him saying. "We're different. You don't see a lot of guys who throw awkward the way we do, so go out there, have fun with it and pound the zone."

Givens, whose low arm slot and fastball that runs as high as 98 mph gave major league hitters fits in his 30 innings last season, was one of many of these pitchers who came about their throwing mechanics naturally. He threw that way as a shortstop and Tolliver had his motion for as long as he can remember, too.

Others stumble into it after a life of conventional throws, as Hart did as an admittedly unremarkable college pitcher at Texas State. He also played first base, and made one sidearm throw to second base that caused his whole career to change.

He wouldn't have been drafted unless he had his sidearm delivery, and wouldn't be at minicamp without O'Day's advice last year during spring training. He saw O'Day's rising four-seam fastball in person at minor league camp one day, and heard from O'Day how he used it to keep left-handed batters from lunging out across the plate at his pitches.

Hart used that tactic against right-handed hitters, and said it "opened up everything for me [last] season." He went from repeating in Delmarva all the way to Bowie, his WHIP hovered around 1.00 all season, and he kept the ball on the ground well.

O'Day helped Givens become more comfortable with his own quirks in their interactions as well.

"Darren said, 'Take what you do, take the knowledge and whatever's comfortable to you and go out and run with it,'" Givens said. "A lot of people are going to try to fix your kinks, but you know your body."

Mills said he doesn't adjust anyone's delivery unless it impacts his ability to command his fastball. Givens said the ability to throw strikes is just as important as the arm action, something he learned as he harnessed his control in 2015.

They all take heart in the fact that the Orioles are seemingly indiscriminate when it comes to who gets chances — you don't need to be a picture of perfect mechanics with premium velocity, as long as you can get batters out.

"You get the sense that Buck likes that," Hart said. "You get a sense that he likes different arm slots, different angles. You look at the success Givens had last year in the big leagues. … Every starter you see is, more times than not, a straight over-the-top guy that throws the ball at an angle. Then you get guys coming in from our bullpen, it's side to side, up and down. It's one thing you see a lot of in this organization. It's fun to see it, that's for sure."

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