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HomeUSLocalYency Almonte’s revival comes at a good time for Dodgers

Yency Almonte’s revival comes at a good time for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES ― Yency Almonte swears he would have been a better pitcher in 2022 than he was in 2021 regardless of where he pitched. Last year, Almonte regressed so badly, he pitched himself out of a major league job with the Colorado Rockies.

It so happens that he landed with the Dodgers, a team that re-imagined and re-invented Almonte as a sinker/slider specialist. The result has been a boon to both the pitcher and his new team. Almonte has a 1.13 ERA through 12 appearances, six of which have seen the right-hander record more than three outs.

The Dodgers, like every team this week, must thin their bullpen ranks to accommodate a rule limiting teams to 13 pitchers. It is difficult to imagine them parting with Almonte. His ability to throw more than one inning at a time is a necessity under the new rules. And his still-untapped potential hints at better things to come.

The transformation already counts as dramatic. Almonte, 28, had a 7.55 ERA in 48 appearances with the Rockies last season.

“After what happened last year and the numbers I put up last year, I knew I was better than that,” he said. “I was ready to come work.”

The work began last November, when Almonte was outrighted off the Rockies’ 40-man roster and elected free agency. At the recommendation of his agent, Almonte visited the Sports Institute in Phoenix and went to work on his flexibility.

Right-handed pitchers typically measure more tightness in their right hip than their left. Their right leg must plant in the dirt, stationary, while building the torque required for major league velocity. Almonte routinely touched 100 mph in 2018, the year of his debut in Colorado. When he arrived at Sports Institute, Almonte’s right hip was tighter than that of even most right-handed pitchers.

By 2021, Almonte’s average fastball speed had fallen to 94.2 mph, per Statcast. He believes this is a direct result of the tightness in his hip. The flexibility work that began in Phoenix and continued in spring training with the Dodgers unleashed more velocity. His fastball is averaging 96.0 mph through Sunday.

An uptick in velocity often elicits less control. In Almonte’s case, the opposite has happened. He walked 13.4% of batters last year, but is down to 9.7% since his contract was selected from Triple-A Oklahoma City on May 12. Almonte believes this is the result of an improved mental approach to pitching.

“I think what got to me was trying to be perfect,” he said. “Trying to like miss barrels. Trying not to get behind in counts. I was worried if I got behind 2-0, it was like I needed to make this pitch perfect in order to get an out, instead of ‘OK it’s 2-and-0, here, hit it’ and take my chances.”

The pressure to be perfect was of Almonte’s own creation. The last offseason was his first of arbitration eligibility, his first chance to make the kind of money that allows a player to retire comfortably. Ironically, that pressure left him out of a job.

With a new hip and a new mindset, Almonte might have thrived in any organization in 2022. He might even have reached the majors faster – the Dodgers made Almonte bide his time at Triple-A to validate the progress he showed in six scoreless spring training games.

Under the tutelage of assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness, Almonte transformed his repertoire. He de-emphasized his four-seam fastball and his changeup. He lowered the arm slot on his sinker and slider to maximize deception. Effectively, the two pitches now spin in opposite directions.

It’s the latest variation on a formula the Dodgers have utilized often over the years.

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