Selected by the New York Mets in the 19th round of the MLB Draft, Tyler Vanderheiden, a right-handed…
Vanderheiden Still Has Work To Do
"The other guys we had, we call piggy backs, the other four college pitchers, they were all starters pretty much. He was the only one who was a bona fide reliever."
Vanderheiden leads the Cyclones in saves [three more than anyone else on the team] and accredits a lot of his success to his unique delivery, which has eased the pressure of pitching through tight spots in the shadows of the Big Apple.
"It helps to have a different look throwing side-arm because everyone else has a traditional arm angle, but for them to have the confidence in me to go out there puts confidence in myself," Vanderheiden said. "I'm not worried about what happens outside of baseball, I'm just trying to throw strikes as best as I can."
At Samford University, Vanderheiden found his niche mostly as a set-up man who threw a lot in middle relief. Having to transition to the ninth-inning role at the professional level has been an adjustment for him.
"It's a lot different," he added. "It's hard to say that because you're still just getting three outs, still throwing strikes, but in college I was so used to throwing in the seventh, eighth, twice in the ninth inning, especially my senior year.
"So coming out there and knowing the game's on the line most of the time, it adds pressure, but at the same time it just increases your potential and hopefully brings the best out of you."
Aside from the intangibles a relief pitcher requires to be effective in tight, late-inning situations, Vanderheiden acknowledged that improving mechanics and developing offspeed, secondary and tertiary pitches are at the top of his to-do list.
"You can't miss your spots," Vanderheiden said. "You get it up in the zone and they're gonna hit it, just like the first guy I faced [Saturday] night. He got ahead in the count, and then I threw one fastball up in the zone and he ripped it to left field. The margin for error is smaller."
Pitching coach Marc Valdes agrees with the young righty.
"He's got the fastball right now and it's going pretty well for him, but he's gotta work on his out-pitch, which is the slider, to get them off the fastball when he doesn't have it, or when he wants to get ahead. He doesn't have to come to a 1-2 fastball in or down away with a sink, he can go to the slider. Right now he hasn't been able to do that."
Still, Valdes was impressed by Vanderheiden's ability to get out of a jam in the ninth inning on July 1 against the Hudson Valley Renegades after giving up three hits before recording an out.
"He stepped it up," Valdes said. "[It] was a tough, tough situation. We had a shutout going and they didn't hit him hard for those three base hits and he gets out of it. He had trust in his stuff, got a nice pop-up in the infield and a ground ball for a double play.
"I think every time these kids go out there, they're always gonna put some pressure on themselves. Whether they put a little too much on themselves or not, only they know that.
"The way he throws down under, he's gotta be so consistent. If these guys learn to take on him if he's not making his pitches, it's gonna be difficult and then the pressure will come."
Donnelly focused on what's made Tyler an effective relief pitcher so far, which if you could have guessed it, is his ability to throw strikes.
"Strikes. He throws strikes," Donnelly said. "You look at all your top relievers of all time. All those guys had one thing in common: strikes. They all throw strikes.
"No great closer ever came in and walked people. [The other day] he came in, he didn't walk anybody which was alright. He gave up three hits and got out of the inning, but he didn't walk anybody.
"Usually those guys who come in and throw one inning they have about 25 or 30 pitches in their arm. If you walk a guy, that eliminates it. If you walk him on six pitches, now you're on 22 and you haven't faced the second guy yet. Strikes are his number one thing."
The common denominator between Vanderheiden, his pitching coach and his manager is their steadfast belief that for a side-arm hurler, it's his secondary pitches that will make him or break him at the pro level.
"Usually a guy who throws where he throws, left-hand hitters like that," Donnelly said. "But if you study the history of some guys who throw down under, they try to develop a pitch that goes away from the left-hander and I think that's what he's gonna have to do. He's still learning."
Ever a student of the game, Vanderheiden found the most comfort in just getting out there and pitching seven days a week.
Excited about the extra reps that come with pro ball, Vanderheiden remarked that the two or three games a week at the high school level, or even the five games a week at the college level, doesn't quite compare to the 24/7 nature of the minor leagues.
"Playing seven times a week really is a step up," Vanderheiden concluded.
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