Collazo Back in Starting Role

After coming into the league as a reliever, Willie Collazo is back into the starting role with the New Orleans Zephyrs. Inside Pitch talked with him to find out how the transition is going and what changes he's made.

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The switch to throwing sidearm revitalized Willie Collazo's career. Throwing over the top might sustain it.

The New Orleans pitcher began to throw sidearm in spring training last year, and apparently it worked. 2007 was the best year in his career, as he made his Major League debut and landed a spot on the PCL All-Star team.

That success continued into this year. He dominated in April with a scant 1.71 ERA in 21 innings with eight strikeouts. But due to call-ups and injuries to the major league rotation, the team decided to put Collazo back into a starting role. Now, as a starter, he's forced to throw over the top and sidearm.

"It does help. Guys don't feel comfortable," Collazo said. "Now I've got the option to go up or down. I can throw a slider from the top or a slider from the sidearm. It gives me an advantage."

Throwing from the top gives him added stamina, Collazo said, because it's not going to be possible for him to throw seven or more innings sidearm. He'd get tired too quickly and lose a lot of his effectiveness late in the game.

So now he's throwing sidearm against lefties, since his fastball gets on top of them so well and gives his slider more bite, against righties he'll go over the top.

"It's not that easy going sidearm for the whole nine innings," Collazo said. "[It hurts] your lower back and arm angle. It's a lot easier, going over the top; that's what you're used to as a little kid. And once you start, you get used to it."

Collazo is no stranger to starting games. In college, while playing for Florida International University, he was used exclusively as a starter. He went 13-1 with a 2.94 ERA as a sophomore in 2001.

That all changed when Atlanta drafted him in the 10th round in the 2001 draft. He scaled the Single-A levels and Double-A as a reliever and did not start a game until 2004, when after signing with the Angels, the team reverted him to a starter.

He struggled within the Angels system and bounced back and forth from the starting role. He appeared in 69 games with the organization but started in just 31 of them, which was largely due to inconsistencies in Double-A and Triple-A, when he had a 5.34 and a 7.71 ERA, respectively.

In 2006 the Mets signed and sent him to Double-A as a starting pitcher. At 26 years old, he revitalized his career there with a 3.11 ERA. Since then, he's started in 30 games for the Mets while also mixing in relief appearances.

Though for Collazo, pitching is just pitching, whether he's coming into the game in the first or seventh inning. His approach roughly stays the same with the exception of a few adjustments. He's forced to use more of his repertoire to keep hitters guessing.

"It changes a little bit," Collazo said. "It's always the same: try to get the people out. I get batters out. You can use more your third pitch instead of your first pitch, trying to work on it for a strike. Then, when you're trying to get out of a jam, you use your first and second pitch."

The results have been encouraging. He's started three games so far this season, lasting 18.2 innings with a 2.89 ERA. While he won't strikeout a ton of batters in a season, so far he has an impressive12-to-4 strikeout to walk ratio.

"The numbers speak for themselves. He's been outstanding," New Orleans pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "He knows how to throttle the baseball, he knows how to go inside to make his changeup look better. He doesn't have high end velocity, but he uses his fastball to set up the rest of his pitches. He's a smart pitcher."

Warthen said that he likes Collazo's potential in the Majors as a middle relief pitcher. His ability to go three or four innings on any given day along with being effective against left-handers makes him an attractive option.

Collazo is just hoping that Mets officials agree, but he knows one thing, they're keeping an eye out.

"They know that [I can start]," Collazo said. "I've been doing it here for the past three years. I've started, I've been in the bullpen, long guy, short guy, lefties all. I've been doing everything."

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