Notes: Haren working on new pitch
Elevating fastball could give hitters more to worry about
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Dan Haren gave National League hitters another thing to keep in the back of their minds when they face him this year as he worked on elevating his fastball during his second start of the spring on Thursday.
Haren threw the pitch for the first time at the suggestion of D-backs pitching coach Bryan Price. If the pitch becomes a two-strike weapon for Haren, that will make it difficult for hitters to look for his low-in-the-zone split-finger fastball in those situations.
"I focus so much on staying low in the zone, it's something I've just kind of beat into my brain, and [Price] wants me to elevate once in a while," Haren said. "The first time I did it I got a strikeout, so it's something I'll definitely be working on in the bullpens."
Working the top of the zone as well as the bottom forces hitters to change their eye levels and can be effective in keeping them off balance. It gives Haren the ability to throw a pitch up in a zone and then come back with his split or breaking ball.
When the D-backs acquired Haren from Oakland in December, Arizona manager Bob Melvin talked about how good Haren's fastball and split were, but after watching him so far this spring he's grown to appreciate how good his cutter and slider are as well.
"He's got a lot of weapons, more than I originally thought," Melvin said.
Good fit: It's only been two starts, but Haren seems to have developed a nice rapport with catcher Chris Snyder. More importantly, because of how good Snyder is behind the plate, Haren is not afraid to bounce his split-finger pitch in the dirt even with runners on base.
Their relationship has progressed faster than he thought it would, according Haren.
"He's done a tremendous job blocking balls," Haren said. "He's got to learn what kind of pitcher I am, but I tend to bounce a fair amount of balls on the split-finger. I have a lot of confidence him."
Tough call: The D-backs could face a difficult roster decision when it comes to the final spots in the bullpen.
If lefty Doug Slaten is healthy to start the year as expected, there appears to be two spots open for three pitchers. Edgar Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert and Brandon Medders are all out of Minor League options and therefore would have to be placed on waivers if they don't make the team.
"Assuming we're healthy, we're going to have to make a tough decision," GM Josh Byrnes said.
It was assumed, coming into camp, that based on their performances last year, Gonzalez and Nippert were the favorites to get those spots. But Medders has thrown a wrench into that scenario with his performance thus far.
The right-hander tossed a scoreless inning of relief on Thursday, giving him four in three appearances this spring. He has allowed just two hits and struck out four while not allowing a walk.
"It may not necessarily be here, but that's my first priority to make this big league team," Medders said. "I want to make the 25-man roster with the Arizona Diamondbacks and if that doesn't happen, I hope that I put myself in a good enough situation where another big league team will want me."
Last year, Medders never seemed to get going as he compiled a 4.30 ERA in 30 games and spent a good deal of time in Triple-A.
"I think his performance has been encouraging," Byrnes said. "He's throwing real well and it looks like last year was just one of those years."
Speaking of Medders: Less may be more for Medders at least when it comes to the mental side of the game.
"The end of last year was the best thing that could have happened for me so I could just start over, start fresh and find the real me in the offseason," the 27-year-old said. "I know I can do it. I think last year I got to the point where I doubted myself."
Melvin has noticed the difference this spring.
"It looks like he's got a lot more confident look in his eye," Melvin said. "He's not nibbling early, he's going right after guys. I know it's Spring Training, but still it just seems like he's re-energized and re-focused for a guy that a couple of years ago was really quite the prospect."
Taking a look: D-backs scout Muzzy Jackson was on hand to watch Sidney Ponson throw off a mound at the Cardinals complex in Florida on Thursday. While Ponson was reportedly impressive and touched 94 mph on the radar gun, it's doubtful the D-backs will make an offer.
Scouts from the Astros, Royals and Mariners were among those in attendance.
Slaten schedule: Slaten will likely throw another bullpen session on Friday as he continues his rehab from right knee surgery.
"I feel great," said Slaten, who added he's likely to throw two batting practice sessions following that and go through some pitchers' fielding practice before getting into a game.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.