Nashville Sounds pitcher Corey Walter believes he has solved the struggles he has faced for the first time in his short four-year professional career.
The 25-year-old, 6’3”, 215-lbs right-hander never had an ERA above 3.10 in pro ball before he arrived in Triple-A Nashville this year. In 18 games in Nashville through into Sunday, Walter’s ERA was a 5.30. In contrast, Walter was a Texas League mid-season All-Star for Double-A Midland last year and went 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA in 13 games (six starts) after the All-Star break with the RockHounds. He finished the 2016 season with a 2.15 ERA in 100.1 innings.
The 28th round draft pick by Oakland in the 2014 draft out of West Virginia University started this year in Midland again, but was called up to Nashville after 10 appearances. Despite the inflated ERA, he said the transition has gone “pretty good” overall.
“I just had a rough little patch there in the middle,” Walter said of his 18 appearances (11 starts) for Nashville. “My timing felt a little off and my fastballs were up in the ‘zone and a mixture of a little bad luck in there as well as not placing pitches, but we worked a little bit and got my timing back and got on track again.”
His statistics may be deceiving; he was barraged for 11 earned runs in just 2.2 innings against the Oklahoma City Dodgers on June 30 and torched for eight earned runs – again in just 2.2 innings – in his next appearance against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. He had lost four in a row.
“The slider wasn’t moving like it has in the past, and my fastball was up in the ‘zone, and fastballs at the waist or the top of the thigh don’t really play that much here [in Triple-A] – you can’t get away with much,” Walter said. “So, I think just finding the bottom of the zone again and being able to locate has got me back on track.”
Since then, he has allowed just seven earned runs over the course of 24 innings. Going forward, Walter said, he is working on his mental approach.
“Just continuing to locate and battle and not take a pitch off,” he said. “You’ve got to focus every pitch here [at Triple-A]. My walks were up a little bit earlier in the year, so I’m just trying to attack everyone and just have that mentality of just getting everyone out.”
Meanwhile, Walter’s pitch repertoire has certainly evolved over time. He came up as fastball/slider pitcher, but he has since adjusted both his fastball and his off-speed pitches.
“In college, I threw the four-seam [fastball], but one day we were just fiddling around with grips and I grabbed the two-seam and it moved a good bit and then I just stuck with it ever since,” he said. “I’ve had success with it all the way up, and I think that’s what’s made me successful…throwing that two-seam to get ground balls.”
However, he still uses the four-seam in certain occasions.
“I still use it for up in the ‘zone stuff – if there’s two strikes and I’m trying to elevate a pitch I’ll go four-seam more; if maybe one day I can’t get to the outside with my two-seam, I’ll mix in a four-seam to go to the glove side, but other than that it’s just all two seams,” Walter said.
While the movement on his slider has eluded him much of this year, Walter has found another pitch on which to rely – a split change-up.
“The slider has been my go-to, but this year it just hasn’t been as good,” he said. “I just developed the split-change at the end of last year. [2016 Midland] pitching coach John Wasdin, we were just fiddling around with change-up grips and trying to get that third pitch because I was in-between starter and reliever last year and they wanted me to get that third pitch, so we were fiddling around with grips to see what would work the best as far as movement and taking off speed [compared to the fastball], so I’ve stuck with [the split-change] and it’s been a really big pitch for me. I feel like I’ve used it almost just as much – if not more than – my slider just because my slider hasn’t been as sharp. The split-change has pretty much been my go-to for swing and miss for both righties and lefties.”
The plans for Walter going forward as to whether he will start or relieve remain undetermined. He started out in the A’s organization as a reliever, but he has increasingly been relied upon to start – of his 123 minor league appearances, all 36 starts have come either this year or last. He has also made 21 appearances over the last two years as a reliever and eight of his last nine appearances have come in relief.
He said he really has no preference on whether to start or relieve.
“Whatever they have a need for, I feel like I can do,” he said. “I’ve had success starting and I’ve had success out of the bullpen, and I honestly like doing it both – it just doesn’t matter to me – I just want to come out here and help the team win ballgames, so I’m up for really any role.
“I’m here to play baseball and get to the big leagues and hopefully win a World Series one day, so either way I’m fine with whatever role they have me in.”
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