Pope's time in the rotation has turned him around
When one looks at Justin Pope’s numbers, it’s important to take a deeper look at his 4.98 ERA. Aside from his April 21st appearance in Ottawa where he gave up seven runs in one-third of an inning, Pope has given up five runs in 21.1 innings of work for a 2.10 ERA in his other games. Some of his best performances have come in recent week as he has had the opportunity to pitch as a spot starter.
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The right-handed relief pitcher has delivered so far in his spot starts. His record as a starter currently stands at 1-1, a 1.00 era, and struck out three while walking one in nine innings of work.
“It was fun having those two starts." said Justin Pope. "If I got some more starts, that would be awesome. But if that’s not in the cards, I’ll go back to the bullpen,” said Pope, “whatever they want me to do, and that’s what I’ll do.”
Because he’s been starting, Pope has had the chance to get more work in between starts.
“We’re able to give him more mound work in between starts, and that allows him to get a little more work in. He’s got more reps,” said Pitching Coach Dave Eiland. “When you gets more reps, you’re able command better and your arm slot gets more consistent."
Despite success most of the season as a reliever, extra work and more reps have allowed him to discover a few changes that he needed to make. One of those changes was a new ability to become more mentally prepared.
“I think a big thing is my mental preparation, just being ready," he said of starting. "When you start, you know you’re going. You know you’re going to go pitch the game and knowing you have to eat some innings from the bullpen."
Aside from mental preparation, starting allowed him to realize he had to improve his concentration on the mound.
“I think my concentration level has been a bit better, even coming out of the bullpen," he said of his last relief appearance on Tuesday. "I’ve been keeping the ball down, and changing speeds well.”
The most important thing that Pope was able to discover through starting lies within mechanics and arm angles.
“One thing I’ve got in [those] two starts is I’ve been able to find my mechanics and my arm slot," he admitted. "Coming out of the pen, you go out there and give it your all. Sometimes you don’t find your mechanics."
Now that something has clicked, it is once again showing on the mound as he tossed three innings of shutout relief against Toledo in his last appearance.
“That’s what was great about starting, you have the chance to find your mechanics, find yourself,” said Pope.
It isn’t known if he will continue to be a spot starter or go back to being a full-time reliever. Regardless, Dave Eiland has no problem sending him out to start in the future.
“He’s made a couple of spot starts," said Eiland. "Whether he makes another one remains to be seen, that comes from the top. I have no problem putting him out there with the job he’s done. He’s very capable of doing that for us. We’re comfortable putting him out there.”
Pope is comfortable wherever the team needs him, and isn’t concerned about a return to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. He doesn’t believe it matters where he pitches from and it’s clear that he’s gained more than confidence in that time as a starter.
In his role in the bullpen, he’s ready to bring a new level of mentality and has ensured himself there won’t be any running through the motions on the mound like he might have in the past.
“With my role, I never know when I’m going to pitch. I’ve got to be mentally prepared from the first pitch to the last. Even sometimes when the game is out of control, you can’t just go out there and go through the motions,” he revealed.
He admits in the past he might have tended to run through the motions in the game when there was a large margin between his and the opposing team.
“When I’ve had bad outings, whether we’ve been up or down by a lot, I kind of went out there and just went through the motions," said the 27-year old. "I wasn’t aggressive as I should have been.”
That won’t be the case anymore. bInstead, he plans to keep doing what he had been doing in his two starts.
"I want to just keep going on this," he said of his 1.72 ERA in May. "I can’t go out there and think about what the score is, I have to take advantage of the opportunity to pitch. Being it’s a one-run game or a ten-run game, I’ve got to go out there and do the best I can and be ready for it, whatever it may be.”
Pope hasn’t forgotten about his repertoire and continues to develop all of his pitches. He currently throws a fastball, along side a slider, and a changeup. His biggest improvement has been his control of his fastball.
“It’s a matter of locating my pitches," he said of his stuff. "I think that’s one thing that came with the starting. My fastball isn’t going out over the plate anymore. I’ve been able to get it down and get it where I want it. It’s just been great for my location and spotting that ball on the plate.”
Dave Eiland agrees that his control has definitely seen improvement.
“He’s commanding his pitches and he’s locating the ball," said the Scranton pitching coach. "When Pope gets in trouble, he starts missing out over the plate. When he’s commanding the ball, you get performances like you have in his spot starts.”
In the end, Eiland isn’t surprised by the success Pope has had.
“I’ve seen him [Pope] pitch like that, so it’s not like it’s a surprise to me," Eiland concluded.
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