Give Brewers right-hander Tim Dillard some credit: The old way wasn’t exactly working, so he’s trying something new.
Dillard is working on a new, side-arm delivery this spring and will continue the project with another bullpen session on Friday at Maryvale Baseball Park. His last mound work was Wednesday, when Dillard worked on his full arsenal of pitches and then stayed late to chat with an army of organizational pitching coaches including Rick Peterson.
“It’s basically the same thing; I’m just tilted over,” Dillard said. “It didn’t take them much to talk me into it.”
It’s in Dillard’s interest to try something new. He made 13 appearances for the Brewers in 2008 but only two in 2009, when he walked five batters in 4 1/3 innings and was charged with six earned runs. The Brewers removed him from the 40-man roster earlier this month after they claimed fellow righty Marco Estrada off waivers from Washington.
Dillard had better luck as a starter in 2009 for Triple-A Nashville, going 11-7 with a 4.51 ERA. The Brewers assigned him to start so he could log more innings to work on his breaking pitches, but now it appears he’ll focus on becoming a relief specialist with his new, funky delivery.
Peterson has had success with similar changes in the past. He worked, for example, with Mets pitchers Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano on dropping down, though Feliciano throws much lower than Dillard. Heilman’s angle is more similar to Dillard’s.
“The whole thing was to try to get his stuff to be a little more effective,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “He didn’t throw many in the strike zone [on Wednesday] but his breaking ball had a little depth to it. I thought the quality of his breaking ball was good. Now if we can get them over the plate, it would be a lot better.”
Macha brought up Kent Tekulve as another example of a pitcher who found success after dropping his arm slot. Tekulve made the change 40 years ago in Class A ball — Peterson’s father, Harding, was the team’s farm director at the time — and was a teammate of Macha for several subsequent seasons in the Pirates’ farm system. It took Tekulve parts of seven Minor League seasons to crack the Majors, but he went on to have a long and very successful career.
Dillard has bought into the change.
“I just haven’t stuck,” Dillard said. “They’ve seen me as a reliever, as a starter, and a few years ago I even closed some. I’ve asked before, ‘Just put me in a role and let me stay with it.’ I think that’s what they’ve done with this move. They think I can be effective this way. There’s not as many right-handers out there doing it like this.
“I’ve thrown a little bit like that and high school and college, so it’s not that big a deal for me. They didn’t have to do a lot of convincing to get me to try it. I almost like being a little ‘dirty.’ I like the bullpen. If this is the role they see me in, I think I can do it.”
It’s a work in progress. He gave catcher Angel Salome quite a workout on Wednesday, spraying pitches all over the strike zone and one that sailed over Salome’s head and struck the fence. It might be some time before he tries facing hitters.
Dillard will be patient. He turns 27 in July, so there is still time to get back to the big leagues.
“A lot of friends were asking me over the winter what I thought was going to happen this year,” Dillard said. “I think I joked around and said something like, ‘Who knows, maybe they’ll have me try something crazy.’ Well, here I am.”