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After missing all of 2008 with an injury, Jose De La Torre is back and is putting together an impressive season.
De La Torre, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008, has posted a 1.83 ERA in 11 games with Double-A Binghamton, striking out 24 batters in 19 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .192 average. He has been especially tough on righties, holding them to a .143 batting average.
"It was hard getting Tommy John and missing the whole season," De La Torre said. "I was really excited to start playing in games."
De La Torre, 23, has been dominant at the Double-A level, showcasing all of his pitches and establishing himself as a reliable, late-inning reliever for the B-Mets.
"I've just been trying to work ahead of the hitters, trying to throw all of my pitches for strikes," De La Torre said.
"He's a kid that can throw his off speed pitches for strikes—slider and changeup—in any count, those are his best pitches right now," said Binghamton pitching coach Hector Berrios. "He can get his pitches over and those are debilitating pitches for opposing hitters."
De La Torre, who was once a highly ranked prospect in the system back in 2007, features both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, along with a changeup and a slider—which he says is his strongest pitch. While the secondary pitches have made full recoveries since the surgery, De La Torre and Berrios are waiting to see the full return of the fastball.
"His fastball is a pitch that we've been working on so he can utilize it," Berrios said. "He's now what we call a ‘backwards type' pitcher, and we're trying to make sure he understands how important that fastball is for his success."
Berrios wants to see De La Torre be able throw his breaking pitches off his fastball rather than the other way around. Throwing his fastball off his breaking pitches puts De La Torre at risk of becoming a predictable pitcher.
"What we don't want to happen is for other people to understand his patterns and then take advantage of it," Berrios said. "So we're working very hard to make sure he becomes more of a complete pitcher."
De La Torre—who was a starter before his surgery—is also adjusting to his role out of the bullpen.
"I used to start in 2007, but if they gave me a choice, I'd stay a reliever," De La Torre said. "And I like being a closer because—it's not the pressure—it's just that you have to come in and close the game. Get those three outs."
While De La Torre is focused on improving his game and his pitches, he is most concerned with staying healthy and getting his strength all the way back.
"I had him in Puerto Rico prior to the surgery and, seeing him now, he's just about back," Berrios said. "He's on his way to making a full recovery, if he isn't there already. He was throwing harder before—he's still inching up on the velocity that he once had. So that still remains to be seen, but he's getting close."
De La Torre's velocity has topped out in the low 90s with Binghamton, making him turn to his secondary pitches more often.
"Before I had surgery I used to throw 93 mph, sometimes 94 mph—I haven't seen that this year," De La Torre said. "But I'm not focused on my speed right now. I just want to get back to pitching and to feel good. I've talked to some of the guys that have had surgery and they told me that I'll get [the velocity] back."
Berrios noted that De La Torre threw the hardest they had seen him throw in his most recent outing—a sign that his velocity may be on the rise.
"I just want to stay healthy and keep doing well," De La Torre said.
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