Sonnanstine seeks tips from relievers
Shift to bullpen has righty trying to learn intricacies of new role
NEW YORK -- Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine was told on Tuesday that he would be used out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season rather than in the starting rotation. After having some time to digest the news, Sonnanstine began to prepare himself for his new role.
"I'll probably head down there tonight, start getting acclimated," Sonnanstine said before Wednesday's series finale against the Yankees. "I'd like to get down there, kind of hang out with the guys and get a feel for the games."
Sonnanstine, who allowed eight earned runs as a starter during the Rays' 11-1 loss in the nightcap of Monday's doubleheader, said he wouldn't likely be used Wednesday night, but if extra innings came about, he could be used as a last resort.
A starting pitcher normally needs three or four different pitches to be successful since he faces opposing hitters several times in a single game, which is in contrast to a relief pitcher, who can get by with two pitches because he rarely sees the same hitter twice in a game. Sonnanstine has a bag full of pitches, so he was asked if he would cull his expansive repertoire as a reliever.
"That's a good question," Sonnanstine said. "I don't know yet. I need to get into J.P. [Howell's] head and [Russ] Springer's head. I'm going to try to pick up knowledge from everybody in that bullpen so I can feel comfortable about what I'm doing and the changes I need to make as far as preparation, mentally and physically, or things like when to stretch.
"There's a whole bunch of things I need to figure out quickly. I'll probably talk to the older guys first and figure out what I need to do to get ready. Hopefully, I'll just take it in stride."
Hard-throwing righty Grant Balfour said a big facet of being in the 'pen is anticipating when to be ready.
"You've got to see who's coming up in the lineup, and you have to kind of prepare yourself for if the phone rings," Balfour said. "Basically, just throw the fastball to get loose. Locate the fastball, and then move on to the next pitch. If you have time, you can throw some other pitches. But if it's a 'next hitter' kind of thing, you're ready to go with the stuff that you're going to take into the game."
Balfour said he has entered games in the past after throwing as few as seven pitches.
Howell previously started for the Rays before moving to the bullpen, so he is familiar with what Sonnanstine will go through while making the change.
"We both rely on location and movement," Howell said. "The best advice I can give him is that now he can go out with his best stuff, and he doesn't have to save [energy]. I wouldn't be surprised if he looks a little bit nastier now that he only has to work -- at the most -- two or three innings.
"Now, he doesn't have to set anything up. He can go out and throw his curveball a lot in an inning. He doesn't have to set it up with his fastball. So it's something where he can go into it and use his best stuff. He doesn't have to use his third or fourth pitch to set something up for later. Now, he can really devastate guys if he's in there for an inning. He can really mix it up and throw pitches he wouldn't normally throw."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.