Rockies Right-hander Castellani's Old Tricks Earn Him a New Opportunity -- in the Big Leagues.

Tracy Ringolsby

Understand that there is a little bit of funk to Ryan Castellani's approach to pitching.

It's by design.

He always has dropped down a bit in his delivery -- except for two years ago at Double-A Hartford when he was convinced to be more conventional and make the adjustment to throw over the top.

It didn't work -- at all.

After that season, he reported to the Arizona Fall League, and began regaining that delivery of his youth, where he is basically throwing out of a close-to-three-quarter slot. 

When he opened last year at Triple-A Albuquerque, he was back in a comfort zone -- briefly. He was solid in four starts, had a 2.75 ERA and then the season came unraveled. After getting knocked around in his fifth start in April a year ago, he was on the Injured List for 16 days. He returned in late May, but after five more starts, the last on June 13, he gave way to the aching elbow, which led to surgery to clean up his right elbow, and the end of his summer season.

Castellani, however, was able to make five appearances covering 16 2/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League, compiling a 2.16 ERA and striking out 20. And when he showed up at the big-league camp in the spring he created enough interest that the Rockies initially kept him on the supplemental roster in this abbreviated season, before activating him and giving him the opportunity to make his big-league debut at Seattle on Saturday night.

Chi Chi Gonzalez, who made his 2020 debut on Monday and was removed after three innings, went on the injured list because of biceps tendinitis on Thursday, opening the door for Castellani, the Rockies' second-round draft choice in 2014 out of Brophy Prep in Phoenix. He turned down a scholarship to Arizona State to sign.

And now, that big-league dream becomes a reality

“High School pitcher -- a lot of times that takes a little time to fully get grounded, to understand how you get your outs,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “With Ryan, a lot of it was his delivery, finding his correct arm slot that worked for him, and the mix of pitches -- what type of pitches that were best for him and what type of spin that he creates on his breaking pitches. Those things started to come together within the last year. He's worked awful hard.”

It was more a matter of rediscovering the correct arm slot.

"My arm slot is pretty level with my shoulder, even with my ear," Castellani explained. "It's a low three-quarters. The Rockies provided me information and data that literally showed where my arm slot was. I was throwing harder and was throwing more strikes (than when he tried to throw over the top)."

So why the change? 

"I made an adjustment to get on top of the ball and try to create backspin," he said. "What I was doing was getting away from what made me consistent. I am an unconventional pitcher. I have a lower arm slot and a bit of a funky delivery. What happened was I was getting too conventional."

Castellani smiled in remembering his thought process two years ago.

"All of the problems, all of the adjustments I was trying to make, it came down to, `You're trying to be conventional, and you are not,'" he said. "I would never teach my kid to throw like I throw. It's almost sidearm, but for me, I throw more strikes. I'm more consistent. And I feel I am back to being that pitcher."

There's nothing wrong with that.

The late Hal Keller, brother of King Kong Keller and known for his scouting evaluations but also a former general manager in Seattle, used to bemoan changes made in a player who had never struggled in pro ball.

"You know what they say, `You can't hit if you wrap the bat,'" Keller liked to say. "Well, somebody forgot to tell Julio Franco. He was 39, wrapping the bat, hitting line drives."

Castellani understands that -- now. His mechanics may be abnormal, but they are the mechanics he has had ever since he can remember. His muscle structure adapted, and when he tried to become conventional, the body said no.

"All season (at Double-A Hartford in 2018), the day after a start, I was worse than I had ever been," he said. "My velocity was down, but now I have it back. I knew, `Lower your arm slot.' It seems like a small thing, but it makes a huge impact. It is hard to fix in the season, trying to win games."

That's where the AFL became key for Castellani. The league is set up for a pitcher to start only once a week, which provided extra time for him to work on getting back in a groove with his mechanics.

"It's not like you are taking a break," he said, "but you really focus and break things down. It's nice to see the movement back. It's like it used to be. Get ahead in the count, and let guys beat the ball into the ground. It's a confidence thing. You build off it each game. There's no forced manipulation."

And the next building project is Saturday night in Seattle -- where he makes his big-league debut.

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