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Updated: February 28th, 2013 10:09pm
Spring Observations: How to throw a better slider, with Mike Pelfrey

Spring Observations: How to throw a better slider, with Mike Pelfrey

by Phil Mackey
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mike Pelfrey may have worked his way back from May 1 Tommy John surgery earlier than most pitchers would have, but there have been some recent hurdles for him to clear.

For one, he was hit pretty hard in his first spring start in Dunedin earlier this week.

Pelfrey also had trouble getting a feel for his slider earlier this spring, which isn't necessarily out of the ordinary considering most pitchers struggle with command after Tommy John surgery.

How did Pelfrey go about attempting to fix his slider?

Like anybody else looking to solve a problem -- he Googled it.

"I actually did that a couple weeks ago," Pelfrey said. "I was throwing early in camp, and I was like, 'Man, this thing's terrible.' So I Googled it, and I joke around with guys, and I tell guys that... But it's true. Then I ended up going back to the slider that I threw before. It was actually pretty good the other day in the game."

Like, YouTube videos?

"Yeah, I was watching grips and reading articles," Pelfrey said. "There was probably five to six articles. I just Googled 'How to throw a slider' and started going through... Guys joke around, but hey, if it works you're not going to be joking then. It's not going to be funny then. It'll be great."

It's tough to be judgmental. Most of us, including myself, have Googled, 'How to tie a tie' at one point or another, or perhaps other embarrassing queries.

"Anything that you can pick up, no matter how you pick it up, it's helpful," Pelfrey said. "Why not use it?"

Pelfrey's second spring start is schedule for Sunday.

No boxscores

General manager Terry Ryan rarely looks at boxscores during spring training. In fact, one person high up in the organization said earlier this week, somewhat jokingly, that Ryan will "rip it up and throw it away" if anyone hands him a boxscore for a spring game.

So, if Ryan isn't looking at batting averages, RBIs and other numbers during spring training, what is he looking for when evaluating, say, an Aaron Hicks?

"Situations, first off," Ryan said. "What kind of situations is he in? Does he need to move a runner? Does he need to take a walk, for instance? If the bases are loaded, is he going to be swinging at strikes? Stuff like that.

"I don't look at whether or not he gets a hit. Obviously I know that he's got his share already, as has (Josh) Willingham and a few other guys. But if they're squaring balls up, and they're swinging at strikes and they're taking what the pitcher gives... If the pitcher is wild, and you go up there and you start flailing away, you're going to end up back in the minor leagues."

For a guy like Hicks who is battling for a 25-man roster spot without having ever played a game above Double-A, numbers do matter to some degree. It would be tough to send him north if he bats .150 in spring training.

But "You don't have to hit .300," Ryan added. "If you're going to make a ball club, his defense would be part of it, his base stealing ability would be part of it. His ability to be a catalyst where he'll hit (in the order)... So those types of job descriptions, he needs to do some of that stuff, not necessarily hit .300."

Hicks tallied two hits in Thursday's B-game against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park. He's off to a hot start this week.

Minnesota East

Either the stars were aligned at Hammond Stadium on Thursday, or Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter is a clever guy.

The Orioles came down from Sarasota with three former Twins in their starting lineup -- shortstop Alexi Casilla, designated hitter Lew Ford and first baseman Danny Valencia.

Apparently adding J.J. Hardy to that lineup would have made things too confusing.

All three received warm ovations, but Ford was the only one who was able to reach base -- a sharp single to center on the first pitch he saw from Liam Hendriks in the first inning. Valencia struck out swinging against Hendriks then later flew out against Cole De Vries. Casilla went 0-for-3.

Ford hit .272/.349/.402 with 32 home runs and 47 stolen bases in parts of five seasons with the Twins, the last coming in 2007. He spent the next few years playing all over the world, from Japan to Mexico, then eventually caught on with Baltimore in 2012.

Casilla was claimed off waivers by the Orioles on Nov. 2. He hit .250/.305/.334 with 71 steals in parts of seven seasons in Minnesota.

Valencia was traded by the Twins to the Red Sox on Aug. 5 last year, then purchased by Baltimore on Nov. 28.

Former Twins farmhands Jason Pridie and Steve Pearce also saw action in Thursday's game.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd