MOOSIC — For Brady Lail, this season’s success in his new role pitching out of the bullpen starts with his trainer Ricky Norton.
Working with Norton for the first time this offseason, Lail trained differently. He wasn’t trying to bulk up and get “big and strong.”
No. He wanted to “feel my body out and feel how my body should be working on the mound.”
The 24-year-old reliever even started using a new “arm-care routine” and he has seen the changes in offseason work pay off in a big way. Lail leads the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in ERA (1.71) and wins (four) and is tied for third in appearances (11).
“I feel like I’m more connected with my body,” Lail said. “I feel like everything’s very strong and very connected. As a starter, I didn’t feel like I was warm until the second or third inning. Now it’s, I’m warm, I’m ready, my legs are ready to go. It’s full boar. I was really excited with the velo jump. I feel like all of my pitches are right there.”
Pitching only an inning or two at a time, Lail has seen a jump in his fastball velocity this season.
He frequently touches 94 or 95 mph, which was something he rarely did as a starter. But now that he’s coming out of the bullpen, not only has Lail seen a jump in his velocity, but his secondary pitches are working well, too. Because he’s coming in late in games and opposing hitters aren’t exactly expecting him to mix in his slider, changeup and curveball.
“He’s always had really good stuff,” RailRiders catcher Kyle Higashioka said. “It’s just playing up a little more now because he’s coming out of the bullpen and he knows he has a couple innings max. That’s always a plus coming out of the pen and he’s really embracing the role, so I’m pretty happy.
“You just find what’s working and try to figure that out early and usually go to that as much as possible because typically you won’t have to face each batter more than once.”
Despite the uptick in velocity, it’s not something Lail is specifically working on with RailRiders pitching coach Tommy Phelps.
The jump has just came naturally through his workouts, which have been an extension of what Lail was working on with Norton in the offseason. Like Norton, Phelps is continuing to help Lail try to “feel my body on the mound a little bit more.”
A major focus has been centered in the repetition in Lail’s delivery.
“You have a certain direction you’re working toward, whether it’s his timing, arm slot, keeping his head direction — any number of things a guy is working — and you specify those things and work on them,” Phelps said. “Getting the feeling of it, them being able to go out and compete with that feeling and ultimately it’s to help him execute better and hide his pitches a little bit more. It’s a process because it’s muscle memory and a lot of times it’s tough to change movement without a lot of reps.
“You’re not trying to make an overhaul of changes usually, but whatever you are focusing on, you know, getting your hands to break earlier or whatever, it’s something you have to do over and over so you can compete and not have to think about it.”
Lail also credits his quick start to the season to his brief, three-game stint as a reliever with the RailRiders in 2017 and his extended stay on the big-league side during spring training this year.
The right-hander used that time to pick the brains of New York Yankees relievers Adam Warren, Chad Green and Dellin Betances. Lail views himself as an Adam Warren 2.0, starting out as a starting pitcher before transitioning into the bullpen, so he wanted to make the most of his time with the Yankees this spring.
“I’ve never really been out of the pen before so last year getting bits and pieces and a little bit of sniffs here and there, it really made me prepare this offseason to become a reliever,” Lail said. “I knew what I needed to do and how quick I needed to warm up going into the spring. It was good to get me feet wet last year and now let’s do this.”
“I kind of pulled bits and pieces from (Warren, Betances and Green), and right now I feel as best as I could be coming from the pen. It was an honor to be there until last cuts. That was my goal coming into the spring and being there really makes me feel this excited about this year.”
As the RailRiders pull farther and farther away from the quarter pole, Lail will look to continue to lock down what has been an impressive bullpen this season.
And as he continues to pitch well, his chances of making his big-league debut will only get better.
“(Norton) killed it for me,” Lail said. “I’m taking this like a religion with what he did with me and I’m super-excited. He’s starting his own little performance thing up, it’s going to be cool if I can eventually get there for him.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle