The sinker is working early for Casey Sadler

Though Casey Sadler admitted that he was trying to “refine the craft and get better as the year goes on,” getting better may be a tough one for the sinker ball throwing right-hander.

In four starts, Sadler has a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings in Triple-A. In his last outing, Sadler was just dominant, allowing just four hits in seven shutout innings. He walked two and struck out six.

The strikeout totals in his last Indianapolis start is what is impressive. Since becoming a starter in the Pirates organization in 2012, Sadler’s K/9 totals plummeted. With Altoona in 130 innings, the total was only 4.6 K/9. Despite striking out six in his last start, Sadler has only struck out 16 in his first 27 innings this season.

With low strikeout totals, Sadler is typically reliant on his defense behind him and strong statistics in those categories. He realizes what the statistics mean and embraces when hitters put the ball in play.

“I don’t really throw hard, by the standards of a strikeout pitcher,” Sadler said. “I throw a lot of strikes, so for me, a good outing might be two or three strikeouts with no walks and eight ground balls.”

This mentality is how the Pirates have developed him. He said that they have told him to let opposing batters hit it into the ground and rely on his movement for outs.

“They wanted me comfortable with people putting the ball in play,” Sadler said. “When I need a big strikeout, I absolutely have that potential, but I would rather go out and have a six to seven pitch inning and be able to pitch seven, eight or nine innings to give my bullpen a rest, instead of throwing 115 pitches in five innings and being done. I have really adopted that, taken it to heart and it seems to be working.”

Adding a Changeup

With a successful spring training, Sadler was working on some adjustments — including adding a new pitch to his arsenal.

“I have started throwing a changeup as well, even as a ground ball pitch,” Sadler said. “Just keeping it down, keeping them off-balance and getting them to roll over. That is my mentality with everything, no matter what I throw, it has to be on the ground. The ball can’t leave the ballpark when it is on the ground.”

Though Sadler began the work last season, he stated that they “really hit it hard in spring training.” This emphasis was drilled into his mentality over the duration of the spring by the Pirates brass.

“There was one game, I think that I threw 18 to 20 change-ups in a five inning span,” Sadler said. “They put some emphasis on it and told me that if I was going to be a starter, I should have a three-pitch mix.”

While he said that he does not pay too much attention to the velocity difference, Sadler said that the fastball is typically in the 91 to 94 range, while the change-up is between 83 and 86. The split, as well as selling the pitch, is what he looks to while making hitters get out in front and drive the ball into the ground.

“There’s not a huge difference in it, but the biggest part is selling the arm speed,” he said. “With just that little bit of difference, if you get a guy who is geared up for the fastball, with the arm speed the changeup is going to be effective regardless.”

Trusting his stuff

For Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer, the success is about Sadler trusting his stuff and throwing strikes early in the count.

“(Working ahead in the count) is important for any pitcher, but especially for him since he is a sinkerball guy,” Filer said. “He’s going to pitch to contact. He is going to get his strikeouts, but he is not going to do it so much with his fastball. He’s attacking with his fastball at the bottom of the zone and he’s letting the movement getting people out. He lets the ball work for him. I think that is what he has to understand.”

Filer is also pleased with Sadler’s ability to throw strikes because it lets him work deep into the game. Of Sadler’s 357 pitches this season, almost 65 percent have crossed the plate as a strike.

“I’m quite satisfied with Casey,” Filer said. “He has done a great job of being pitch efficient. He goes out there and goes after guys right away. He gets a lot of quick outs and a lot of balls on the ground. He is doing his job and is working his way into getting even better.”

Bullpen help in Pittsburgh

Sadler was recalled by the Pirates before his April 27th start to provide some bullpen relief. Coming out of the bullpen is nothing new for Sadler, who began his career in the Pirates’ organization as a reliever.

Sadler is in his second full season as a starter, after working as a reliever in the lower levels. He stated that this was not a difficult adjustment moving back into starting, as he was a starter in high school and college at Western Oklahoma State.

“When I first got drafted, there were a lot of arms who were ahead of me,” Sadler said. “They pretty much told me that they were going to put me in the ‘pen and let me get some work and throw me under the lights. They said to always be ready because I was going to get that opportunity at some time. I got that opportunity in High-A, took advantage of it, and here we are today.”

The progression into starting, and now getting some time in Pittsburgh, shows what the leadership truly think about Sadler and his future. With the starting pitching depth in the organization, Sadler seems to project as a reliever. His sinker and groundball ratio makes him a solid candidate to get some much-needed double play balls to get out of jams for Clint Hurdle. However, even with the projection as a reliever, Sadler still has a bright upside with the Pirates and could provide some spot starts in the short-term.

Ryan has been following Indianapolis baseball for most of his life, and the Pirates since they became the affiliate in 2005. He began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2013, in a stint that ran through 2016 (with no service time manipulation played in). Ryan rejoined the team in 2022, covering Indianapolis once again. He has covered the Pirates in four different big league stadiums. Ryan was also fortunate enough to cover the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati.

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