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meet mark worrell

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though he won the 2005 rolaids relief man award as the best closer in all of minor-league baseball, mark worrell has yet to impress the scouts. worrell (no relation to todd) didn't make baseball america's list of the top 10 prospects in the cardinal organization; john sickels listed him 16th and assigned him a c+ rating. this after worrell held florida state league hitters to a sub-.200 average last year, struck out a batter an inning, and had a 3:1 strikeout-walk ratio. in his first two years of professional ball he has put up a 2.32 era, but he isn't thought to have dominant stuff. opinions will rise if worrell continues to get guys out in double a; aside from one bad outing (april 22 vs tulsa) he's off to a good start this year at springfield (here's his stat line).

i chatted with mark for a few minutes last friday; thanks to mike lindskog of the springfield cards' PR department for setting up the conversation.

you played last year in palm beach. i notice that you're from a place called palm beach gardens -- is that nearby?

yeah, it's maybe 5 or 10 minutes from jupiter.

so you were essentially playing in your hometown last year.

yeah, pretty much.

what was that like?

it was awesome. i got to have all my family and friends come out to the field and watch games whenever they wanted to. they attended a lot of the time, so it was nice for me just to have the moral support there.

did it add any pressure to have friends and relatives there watching while you pitched?

no i think actually it took pressure off. i liked seeing them, and it kind of made me feel more at home.

were you a closer in college?

no, i was a starter.

it seems like the cardinals identified you as a closer from the very beginning. is that something you had to be sold on, or did you embrace that change?

i pretty much wanted to do anything that i had the best chance at advancing with. it was pretty easy for me to get acclimated to the closer role. took a little time, but once i got used to it it was pretty easy.

tell me a little bit about your repertoire. what's your best pitch, what are you comfortable throwing out there?

to left-handed batters i throw a little bit more over the top, and i throw fastball-changeup to them. to righties i'll throw more of like a sidearm delivery and i'll throw fastballs and sliders. my best pitch is probably the slider.

did you bring that repertoire with you from college, or have you added some things since you joined the cardinals system?

i've changed some things. in college i used to drop down sidearm against right-handed batters on occasion, but now i pretty much do that all the time. i'll mix it up every now and then, throw a little bit overhand to right-handed batters, but now i pretty much throw straight sidearm to righties. i added in a sidearm changeup to righties.

and you change deliveries from batter to batter -- sidearm to right-handers and straight over the top to lefties?

i don't throw straight over the top; i throw more like three-quarters.

that's a little bit unusual, to change back and forth like that.

yeah it is different, but it's not difficult for me at all. i guess you could think of it like a switch-hitter -- you might switch sides of the plate from one at-bat to the next. it's kind of like that from a pitching standpoint.

did you come to that by trial and error?

yeah, our manager last year -- at the start of the season i had a couple of outings where lefties were hitting me pretty well. i think they were seeing the ball well off me, so i made a couple of changes, and i started throwing more over the top. i guess i hide the ball more; i kind of turn and keep my shoulder in there to hide the ball better against lefties. i made that change, and i think i actually pitched better against lefties last year than i did against righties.

has it been a pretty smooth transition for you to double a?

i think it's pretty much the same [as high class a], because i think the florida state league's really good. the only difference that i've noticed is that the heart of the lineup, the 3-4-5 hitters, are that much better here. they're all big power hitters, real big prospects. so if you make mistakes, they'll just kill you.

are there one or two skills you're really focusing on this season?

i think for any pitcher, me included, i've worked on getting ahead in the count -- being smart. first-pitch strikes are huge in this game, getting ahead of hitters. i guess that's always a constant battle for all pitchers. you want to get ahead in the count, you want to be able to drop in off-speed pitches at the beginning of the count, and then once you do get ahead you just gotta be smart and make them hit your pitch, so you're in control. that's essential to advance up to the next level. if you've got a hitter up there and you're ahead 0-2, 1-2, you know you're gonna be in control. maybe he'll be swinging at a pitch that he wouldn't be swinging at ordinarily.

is there a big-league pitcher you would compare yourself to, or who you have patterned yourself after?

i never really thought about it. there's probably not [a good comparison], to tell you the truth, because i throw so different from most people. it's probably a lot harder for hitters to hit off me because of my delivery, so i think it's definitely an advantage. but it feels natural to me; it's not like i'm trying to adjust my delivery to make it harder for the hitters. this is how i throw, how i've always thrown.

do you have a timetable for when you'd like to move up to triple a and then ultimately be competing for a spot on the big-league team?

i don't really have an exact time; as soon as possible i'd like to, but i leave that stuff up to the gm. i'm not gonna sit here and worry about when i move up. all i can control is how i pitch out there.