Forgettable 2013 season offers motivation for Sipp
Reliever fights for command of pitches, spot as left-handed specialist for Padres
PEORIA, Ariz. - Tony Sipp would like to forget about last season, but he knows he can't. The year provides too much motivation for him to just let it go.
Traded to Arizona in the offseason from Cleveland -- a place where he solidified himself as a Major League reliever over parts of four successful seasons -- Sipp endured the most trying year of his career in the desert. His struggles with command and results against lefties drove the D-backs to acquire fellow southpaw Joe Thatcher from San Diego, effectively ending the veteran's left-handed specialist role on the team.
Shortly after the deadline deal, Sipp ended up being optioned for the first time since 2009 to the Minors, where he stayed in exile until rosters expanded in September.
So yes, remembering a season like that isn't exactly fun, but if Sipp took away one thing from the experience, it was that he needed to learn from his mistakes or else he'd be in danger of repeating them.
"It was tough, but I got to make sure that doesn't happen again," Sipp said. "It's already a tough game; you can't make it tougher on yourself. Can't beat yourself by not growing."
Now a full offseason away from his frustrating 2013 campaign, Sipp is currently in the thick of his revival in Padres camp this spring. Signed to a Minor League deal a couple months ago, the 30-year-old is competing alongside Rule 5 Draft player Patrick Schuster for the lefty specialist role the club expects to utilize in its bullpen.
In four Cactus League innings thus far, Sipp has yet to allow an earned run and has retired three out of the four lefties he has faced.
"He's doing fine," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said. "He's always had good stuff but he's being aggressive in the strike zone early in the count. That's what he needs to do. If you're ahead in the count, you can throw quality balls on purpose and get guys to bite. That's the key for Tony."
Getting ahead in the count is something Sipp didn't do a lot of last year. In addition to the strike-throwing issues making him more predictable as at-bats wore on, they also led to 22 walks in just 37 2/3 innings.
"Earlier I was attacking guys, making them beat me, making them put the ball in play, but the walk total increased as the season went on," Sipp said. "You can't do anything to help yourself when you're walking guys."
Sipp's other condemning issue was a headscratcher. Although his go-to out pitch, a sweeping slider, profiles well against lefties, Sipp was actually more successful vs. right-handers in 2013 as they hit .208 off him while left-handers batted .270.
"If you throw a specialty pitch like that, sometimes lefties can expect what's coming," Balsley said.
Sipp said he began to figure some of his problems out toward the end of last season and he has since continued working on the mechanical adjustments in Padres camp. Preferring not to get too specific, Balsley described the changes as "pitching coach jargon."
"He's made some good adjustments that may allow him to throw strike one," Balsley said. "He's well on his way to correcting what he did last year. He's a very good competitor, by the way."
Sipp understands the inherent pressure that comes with auditioning for a job in Spring Training, but he insists it won't affect his performance. He feels confident in his abilities and will let the dice fall where they may.
"When in doubt, stick to what you know best and try to take out all the outside factors," Sipp said. "Stick to your strengths and hopefully they'll shine through whatever X variable you have to go through. I know I have to leave it all out there on the field, but other than that I'm going to let it play out."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.