For some guys, it's a tweaked swing or an altered motion or a kick in the seat of the pants. For Cannons reliever Kevin Sheredy, a crumpled sheet of paper is what has helped salvage his season.
When Sheredy was a sophomore at East Kentwood High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., Coach Al West handed each player the results of a college study that detailed batting averages at different points in the count.
Sheredy, 24, recalls many of his teammates glancing at the paper, wadding it up and chucking it. He held on to his, eventually tucked it into his college recruiting file and years later ran across it when packing for a move. Again, he kept it.
"For some reason, it really seemed like a useful bit of information," Sheredy said.
He was right. With a recent photocopy his mom e-mailed to him, Sheredy consulted the handout this season when he was struggling. The one finding that most struck him was hitters' poor batting average with an 0-0 count.
"That gave me the idea of trying to force the action within the first three pitches," Sheredy said. "What the heck, you're throwing 93 mph, why wait? Let them take a hack at it."
That way of thinking worked Thursday night at Myrtle Beach when Sheredy (2-4 with a 4.48 earned run average) bailed out starter Otoniel Lanfranco by giving up only one hit--a home run--and no walks in four innings of relief in the Cannons' 7-6 win. The victory bumped the team to two games over .500 for the first time this season.
The right-hander was a closer at UCLA, but the Cardinals transformed the 1996 seventh-round draft pick into a starter. In fact, he was the Opening Day starter this season. But now he's happy to be back in the bullpen. And to have his trusty cheat sheet.
"Someday, I might have to go back to my old baseball coach and tell him that he really turned my season around," Sheredy said.
Cannons reliever Lance Franks has struck out 34 batters while walking just seven. For his career, he has 146 strikeouts and 35 walks.
"My dad was a college coach [at Arkansas Tech], so he had a lot to do with my control," said Franks, 23, a right-hander. "The most important thing is mechanics, and I think a lot of it has to do with my mechanics."
Being around the strike zone so often doesn't mean hitters tee off on him: His ERA is a staff-low 2.66, and even that is higher than his ERA in his first two professional seasons.
"He's been the most consistent guy out of the bullpen," Potomac Manager Joe Cunningham said.
A Pitcher for the Future
Former Cannons pitcher Rick Ankiel, considered by many the best pitching prospect in baseball, is one of 25 players chosen to compete for the United States in the inaugural All-Star Futures Game, which features the top American and international minor league prospects.
The seven-inning game will be at 2:15 p.m. today at Fenway Park in Boston and will be televised at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.
Ankiel, 19, went 9-6 with a 2.79 ERA with the Cannons last season. He struck out 181 batters and walked 38. This season, Ankiel is 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA for the AAA Memphis Redbirds after being called up from AA Arkansas.
CAPTION: Pitcher Lance Franks has 34 strikeouts and just seven walks.