Has a 1.86 ERA in middle relief
Former St. Mary's pitcher Eric Wordekemper is already a few steps ahead of most minor league pitchers, even some hard-throwing rookie pitchers in the big leagues.
"I've been able to throw strikes consistently and also keep the ball low in the strike zone," Wordekemper said Tuesday night in an interview with the Pilot Tribune. "I've established good command of my fastball and so far, I've been able to spot it pretty well."
A 2002 St. Mary's grad who also pitched three years with Division I Creighton University in Omaha, Wordekemper was drafted two summers ago by the Yankees and moved from rookie ball to A ball over the offseason.
He's been pitching in middle relief for the Class A Charleston Riverdogs in South Carolina this summer and co-leads the team's pitching staff with 30 appearances.
"I've had a few starts here and there," Wordekemper said, "but ultimately, I'm going to be a bullpen guy. It's something I've grown accustomed to and I'm fine with it."
As of this week, Wordekemper had thrown 48 1/3 innings, giving up fewer hits than innings pitched (44) while walking just 12 and striking out 41. Opposing batters are hitting just .230 against the hard-throwing righthander.
In his 30 appearances, he has an earned run average of 1.86 with a 2-2 record and four saves.
The Storm Lake native was asked he if he expected to move up in the Yankee organization because of his recent success.
"They don't talk much with you about your progress or where you'll be this year or next year," Wordekemper said. "But if they do talk to you, you go into the manager's office and you are told you're going here or there. It's pretty sudden, so you can't worry about it a lot. The important thing for me right now is to continue my development as a pitcher and keep improving."
Being able to spot the fastball is a key to any pitcher's success, Wordekemper said.
"What you want to do with most hitters is get ahead with the fastball, then use your other pitches as effectively as you can," he added. "If you mix in a good fastball in the count, a hitter doesn't know what to expect."
Wordekemper added that since pitching with Creighton, he has dropped one pitch in his repertoire and added another.
In college, he said, he hurt his arm by throwing a curveball. He also threw a fastball, slider and changeup.
By the time he was drafted by the Yankees in June of 2005, Wordekemper had already dropped the curveball.
Last spring, Yankees pitching coach Nardi Contreras taught him the split finger fastball, a pitch that dives as it reaches the hitter but is just a few mph slower than the fastball. He still throws the slider.
Wordekemper added that his split finger pitch is still a work in progress.
"For most pitchers, it's not a pitch that you can master overnight," he said. "The more I use it in game situations, the better command I'll have."
During his relief stints, Wordekemper had worked as many as five innings a a time.
"Basically, I'm pitching in middle relief," he said. "Things have been going really well for me," he said. "We don't get paid that well at this level, but on the other hand, we're playing a game we love."
The Riverdogs played .500 baseball during the first half of the season, but haven't fared as well in the second half.
The team snapped a five-game losing streak this week. As of Tuesday, the Riverdogs were 13-18 but had gone 2-8 in their last ten games.
"We've hit a little skid over the past couple weeks," he said. "Hopefully, we'll finish strong."
The Riverdogs are located in historic Charleston near Ft. Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
"It's a great place to live, with a lot of history," he said.
Wordekemper was also asked about the stereotypes of minor league baseball that and has been portrayed in movies like Bull-Durham.
"Some of that stuff is true and some of it isn't," he said.
"The bus rides do get to be a little long," he said. "August is going to be tough for us; we have two eight-game road trips."
On the other hand, as Wordekemper said, playing the game you love a chasing a dream only a select few are given a chance at makes it all worthwhile.