New arm angle puts Webb in prime spot
Change in mechanics has reliever thriving in top bullpen
SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Webb admits he wasn't exactly thrilled when Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley came to him in Spring Training and asked him to work on lowering his arm angle in Triple-A Portland.
After all, the right-handed relief pitcher had been doing exactly the opposite a season ago.
"That was something that I was kind of skeptical about, because the entire season before I had worked on trying to get my arm angle up," Webb said. "I had success out of the 'pen and I was throwing hard and my breaking stuff was sharp. I felt like it was a step I took in the right direction by getting my arm angle up."
But Webb put faith in the Padres' coaching staff and tweaked his delivery in the Minors, and now it's paying dividends at the big league level.
The 24-year-old Webb has evolved into one of the Padres' most reliable options out of the bullpen, as he has allowed two earned runs in 25 1/3 innings to post the third-lowest ERA among National League relievers (0.71) so far this season.
"He's been an unsung hero," said Padres manager Bud Black. "I think the velocity has maintained [with the change in arm angle], but the movement produces the ground ball. It's always a great safety net to know that if you throw a fastball low in the strike zone with sink with velocity, it's tough to square up, it's tough to put in the air."
It all started with the work Webb put in once he was sent down to Portland. Rather than letting the request for a change in his mechanics negatively affect his psyche, Webb used it as the driving force to get better.
"Of course, you're kind of upset to get sent down and realize you're not going to make the team, but having [my arm angle] to work on kind of made it a lot easier," Webb said. "Instead of being bitter and [saying], 'Oh, now I've got to pitch my way back up here,' it was something that I could work on and not worry about when you're going to get called back up."
The adjustments led to immediate results, as Webb simply dominated in Portland. He tossed 10 scoreless innings while allowing six hits and striking out 10 batters.
So when Padres reliever Sean Gallagher was placed on the disabled list on May 4, Webb was the natural choice to bring back to San Diego.
Things didn't start quite as smoothly with the big league club.
In his second appearance, Webb allowed the game-winning run in the 11th inning and took the loss in a wild 4-3 contest in Houston on May 9.
But in the Padres' very next game in San Francisco, Black handed the ball to Webb again, and the reliever responded by pitching out of an inherited jam in the fifth and ultimately tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings to earn his first win of the season.
"I came right back and got put into a situation with runners on base, and I got the out [to end the inning] and got the win in that game," Webb said. "That was kind of like, 'OK, that's what being in the bullpen is all about --bouncing back the next day.' That was probably it for me -- realizing that you don't let the loss affect you."
Webb has allowed just one run since that game in Houston.
And yet, it's easy for Webb to get overlooked when he's part of statistically the best bullpen in baseball (2.52 ERA) that already features a dominant backend combination of Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and Heath Bell.
That's just fine with Webb.
"I'm just happy to be apart of something so great like being called the best bullpen in the league," Webb said. "If nobody knows who I am, and I go out there and I'm successful, then I'm happy. It's the guys in the clubhouse that matter.
"Everybody [in the bullpen has] been having that success, and we feed off of that. Everybody pushes each other and we all drive each other, and you don't want to be the guy that doesn't get the job done."
Since the Padres' seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning specialists have already been set, Webb's been used as a utility man out of the bullpen to pitch in a variety of situations. During San Diego's most recent homestand, his five appearances ranged from a two-inning stint to keep his team within a run of the Mariners, to a ninth-inning outing against the Blue Jays with an 8-2 cushion.
"It makes it a little bit more exciting -- I never can figure out when I'm going to go in," Webb said. "Sometimes it gets a little taxing trying to think about all the scenarios that could happen, but when that phone rings, you need to be ready. I try to show up every day and keep that mindset."
But whether he's the unsung hero or simply another piece of arguably the best group of relievers in the game right now, Webb said his role is pretty simple.
"Just throw strikes," he said. "Go out there, be aggressive, do the same thing you've been doing. Throw strikes and keep the ball down, and I figure I'll let my stuff take care of the rest."
Gina Mizell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.