Rockies banking on smoother delivery from Cook
The late Bus Campbell, renowned for his knowledge of pitching mechanics, used to cringe when he watched Colorado Rockies pitcher. It bothered Campbell, who began working with Roy Halladay when Halladay was 14, to no end that the toe tap Cook had in his delivery persisted, since it was a correctable flaw.
Cook’s toe-tap, or what Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca called “a little hitch in his giddyup,” appeared to be a thing of the past last year in two September starts. Referring to those outings, general manager Dan O’Dowd said, “We were really, really encouraged by what we saw delivery wise.” And that could bode well this season for Cook, who turned 32 on Tuesday and is seemingly headed toward free agency, given the mutual option for $11 million on 2012 with a $500,000 buyout.
When Cook began his stride to the plate but tapped his foot, paused and started again, Apodaca said, “There was no continuity, no flow to his delivery. And his direction was consistently off-line, was going more and more across his body.”
What helped Cook was getting hurt and a chance to regroup in the minors. He went 0-3 with a 13.97 ERA in three successive starts from July 23-Aug. 3, allowing 23 hits and 15 runs in 9 2/3 innings with six walks, six strikeouts and three home runs yielded. Cook then went on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right big toe and an overall record of 4-8 record with a 5.34 ERA.
When he was well enough to begin throwing, Cook went to Double-A Tulsa. There he worked with Marcel Lachemann, a former pitching coach and one of O’Dowd’s top advisers, and Bryan Harvey, who was Tulsa’s pitching coach but unfortunately is no longer in the Rockies organization. Cook started on Aug. 23 and Aug. 28 for the Drillers with good results.
On Aug. 23, he allowed three hits and one run in five innings with one walk and four strikeouts, throwing 41 of 60 pitches for strikes against Frisco but losing 2-1. On Aug. 28, Cook increased his pitch count to 92, including 59 strikes, albeit in 5 2/3 innings but gave up five hits and two runs with two walks and six strikeouts and came away a winner in Tulsa’s 8-4 win against Northwest Arkansas.
Cook returned to the Rockies rotation and made two September starts, winning both. On Sept. 3 at San Diego, where he has thrived in his career, Cook gave up four hits and two runs in 6 1/3 innings, walking four with three strikeouts and throwing 87 pitches, 51 strikes. On Sept. 8 against the Reds, Cook gave up a leadoff single in the sixth followed by a Joey Votto line drive hit that broke Cook’s right fibula. It was Cook’s 60th pitch and 43rd strike, and he left after allowing six hits and one run in five-plus innings.
“He pitched those two games for us, and you could see a major difference,” Apodaca said. “You could see downhill plane with his pitches. You could see his fastball far more in the strike zone and then leaving the strike zone instead of (being) a ball out of his hand. His breaking ball was much more efficient.”
Cook never intended to tap his toe and pause during his delivery. Trying to be deliberate when moving his stride foot led to the hitch and attendant problems.
“He would begin his stride, but his upper body would start leaning into the pitch,” Apodaca said. “Then it would stop, and it would start again. And usually the second start was a much quicker move to the plate. We’re talking about somebody getting out fast, and not being a power arm anymore, he has to rely on the ball starting on the correct plane and having the movement that looks like a strike and then becomes a ball or a pitch that’s a ball and then becomes a strike.”