Warner hoping to make best of bullpen move

Josh Warner initially wasn’t happy with his recent demotion to the bullpen. He’d never been a reliever.

As long as the Williamsport reliever can remember he’s been a starting pitcher. He was down on himself when Crosscutters manager Nelson Prada delivered the news more than a week ago he was being removed from the Cutters’ rotation in favor or Julio Reyes.

Standing near the front of Williamsport’s clubhouse at Bowman Field last week, Warner tried to put the positive spin on the move. He could begin to think positively after back-to-back scoreless outings, no matter how upset he was with the move.

“The move to the bullpen, I was hesitant about it,” Warner said. “But when you get out there and the adrenaline starts pumping, I just try to do my job. So far it’s been good. Maybe it’s a positive move.”

Warner has appeared in three games as a reliever since the move. He’s allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings, both of which came on a two-run home run by Connecticut’s Dominic Ficociello on Friday night.

But it’s really been the only mistake he’s made in those three appearances. The hope has been teams will have fewer opportunities to see Warner and less of a chance to get a read on his pitches.

The 20-year old from Surfers Paradise, Australia, doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He has a fastball which sits from 87-89 mph and will touch 90-91, not overpowering by any stretch for a right-hander. But he’s always had an above average change-up with a plus, sweeping curveball.

But because he doesn’t have even an above average fastball, he’s been caught throughout his career nibbling around the plate and going to his change-up and curve too much. The move to the bullpen has made Warner change his approach.

In his first appearance, he attacked the strike zone with his fastball, getting ahead in the count, and then freezing the hitters with his curveball for strikeouts. In his second appearance, he again attacked with the fastball getting soft contact on some weak fly balls.

“Usually when I start – which might be my problem – I was just trying to hit spots and not really going after hitters,” Warner said. “But now that I’m in the bullpen I can attack with my fastball and try to throw as hard as I can.”

Warner has gotten an extra tick or two on his fastball by being able to go maximum effort for an inning or two, as opposed to trying to conserve himself for five or six innings. His stuff plays up better than it might actually be because lineups are only seeing him one time.

The only time as a reliever he’s been touched up for runs came Friday when he threw 2 1/3 innings against Connecticut. With the most stretched out arm of anyone in the Williamsport bullpen, he was asked for a little more than he normally would be out of the bullpen because the team had to fill in a start because of last week’s doubleheader with Auburn. So it was a bullpen game started by Yacksel Rios who has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen prior to Friday.

He was hurt in his third inning of work, which was his second trip through the Tigers’ lineup. After a leadoff walk to the ninth batter he faced in the outing, Warner gave up the two-run home run to Ficociello who had flied out in his first at-bat. Warner also allowed a double to Javier Azcona who was facing him for the second time.

“I always say if you have good stuff and you’re pitching out of the bullpen, you have a good chance (to advance through the organization) because they’re not going to see your stuff twice,” Prada said. “He’s taken a good chance now that they don’t have to see him twice. He’s doing a good job, too.”

Despite initially being upset by the move, Warner has embraced his new role. He knows the other option isn’t nearly as good as the chance he’s been given.

In three seasons in the Phillies’ system, he has a career ERA over five while allow more than four walks per nine and striking out just over six batter per nine innings. The likelihood is Warner is on thin ice as a prospect, but with a couple extra miles per hour on his fastball in a relief stint, he could still be an asset in the system.

“As long as I’m pitching, I’m pretty happy,” Warner said. “If I keep a uniform on my back, I’m pretty happy. As long as I pitch well, starting or bullpen I don’t mind.”