PORTLAND — It may look strange but it has done wonders for Portland Sea Dogs closer Josh Fields.
He will tape up one end of a towel, which will emulate a baseball, and then go through his delivery. He doesn’t actually throw the towel but he does do the follow-through.
“It slows my arm down,” explained Fields. “It has been a huge help. When you’re able to repeat your delivery, it enables you to become more consistent out there.”
It has also enabled him to hide his pitches more efficiently.
Fields has been a model of consistency, especially over his last 10 appearances.
Entering Wednesday night’s game against Akron, he had allowed just four hits and one run over 18 2/3 innings. He had struck out 21 and walked only three.
Opponents were hitting .067 in those 10 relief appearances.
“He has worked diligently on improving the efficiency of his delivery,” said Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper. “Because of that, he has been able to execute quality pitches and quality strikes.
“He has been a tireless worker,” said Kipper. “He is really beginning to define himself. He understands the things he needs to do to be successful.”
Fields was traded to the parent Boston Red Sox by the Seattle Mariners on July 31, 2011 in the deal that also brought starting pitcher Erik Bedard to Boston.
He wound up appearing in nine games for the Sea Dogs and was 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA.
He allowed just 10 hits in 17 1/3 innings with 10 walks and 25 strikeouts. Opponents hit just .179 against him.
So far this season, he is 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA. He has given up 29 hits in 42 2/3 innings with 16 walks and 57 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .187 off him. He has seven saves.
His strikeout-to-walk ratio is far better than it had been in any of his previous three professional seasons.
“By working on my delivery every day and being able to repeat it, it has dropped my walks,” said right-hander Fields, who will turn 27 on Aug. 19.
Fields has a fastball that he throws consistently in the 93-94 mph range, a curve and a changeup.
“His fastball explodes and because his delivery is more compact, it is more deceptive so the hitter sees the ball later rather than sooner,” explained Kipper. “He beats a lot of hitters with his fastball.”
“Sometimes my fastball cuts a little bit,” said Fields. “It’s nothing I try do do. My ability to hide the ball creates a good deception. That really helps.”
He also has a curve and changeup.
“His curve is improving,” said Kipper. “He’s able to throw it in the strike zone and he’ll throw it both early and behind in counts.”
“I’ve had some outings recently where I’ve tried to use my curve in different counts, not so much as my put-away pitch,” said Fields. “I’ll even start hitters off with it. I’m trying to throttle it to take something off it. But I’ll also add a little bit of velocity to it to make it break [sharper] for my put-away pitch.”
The changeup is a work in progress.
“It’s at the bottom rung of his repertoire but it’s improving and he can use it effectively from time to time,” said Kipper.
“It wasn’t a pitch I could use until last year,” said Fields. “Two years ago, I had muscle strain in my arm and my curve was the last pitch to come around. It wasn’t real tight or real sharp. So I was forced to throw my changeup.
“I’m using it more than I used to. I’ve gotten some quick outs with it,” said Fields. “They’ll swing at it early in the count and I’ll get some pop-ups or groundouts with it. I’m pretty pleased to see it work like that.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound Fields is a native of Hull, Ga., who went on to pitch for the University of Georgia, which is “10 minutes away” from his home.
He had been a shortstop and a starting pitcher in high school but was primarily a middle reliever at Georgia as a freshman.
“After my freshman year, I went to pitch in the [New England Collegiate Baseball League] in Keene, New Hampshire and, at our first practice, I asked the coach if I could be the closer,” said Fields. “He said they’ll give me a shot at the job and I haven’t looked back since.”
He set the school and Southeastern Conference record with 41 career saves and was named the Stopper of the Year and the SEC Pitcher of the Year in 2008 and a first team All-American.
He was drafted by Atlanta in the second round after his junior year at Georgia but decided to return to school and, following his terrific senior year, he was chosen in the first round by Seattle (20th overall) in 2008.
He loves being a closer.
“I really enjoy it. I love the adrenaline rush. A lot of times, you either get it done or you lose the game. It’s fun. I don’t think everybody could do it but I enjoy it,” said Fields.