Cordier brings heat to Giants' bullpen battle
Reliever boasts fastball that touches 100 mph, but control an issue
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Erik Cordier lacks subtlety, but not opportunity.
Most Giants pitchers thrive by throwing an assortment of deliveries at various velocities. Cordier's scale of speeds typically ranges from hard to harder to hardest. The Giants regarded the 28-year-old right-hander so highly that they signed him to a Major League contract last November, though he has spent his entire 10-year professional career in the Minors.
Recall right-hander Felix Rodriguez's dominance during his Giants tenure (1999-2004). He consistently subdued opponents' rallies, as his 34-19 record, 3.06 ERA and 376 strikeouts in 403 innings with San Francisco reflected. He dictated the game's pace with his fastball when he entered from the bullpen. Cordier hasn't begun to approach Rodriguez's level, but his ability to blow away hitters gives him a chance to carve his niche.
"What they told me was that they wanted a guy to change the pace a little bit," Cordier said. "And I'm able to do that with my fastball."
Four of Cordier's fastballs registered 100 mph on a Giants radar gun Feb. 28 against Milwaukee during his initial Cactus League outing. Such readings often can be inaccurate, but Cordier hasn't figuratively slowed down. Displaying a fastball that regularly exceeds 95 mph, he has surrendered one hit in four scoreless one-inning appearances. Cordier's involved in a crowded competition for one of possibly two short-relief openings, along with right-handers Jake Dunning, Heath Hembree, George Kontos, Derek Law and Jean Machi and left-hander Dan Runzler.
"I do know in the back of my head it's a unique ability that God has given me, to put me in a position like this," Cordier said.
This wasn't false piety. A starter in the Royals and Braves systems in his first eight seasons through 2012, Cordier signed as a Minor League free agent before the following season with the Pirates, who treated him as if he were a shapeless lump of clay.
"I was a project," he said. "They really didn't know where they wanted to go with me right away."
Cordier had established his hard-throwing reputation by then, with a fastball that hovered between 93-95 miles an hour and occasionally touched 98. But the Pirates were understandably wary of Cordier's erratic control. In 520 1/3 innings to that point, he had struck out 397 batters. He also walked 293, an average of more than five per nine innings. So they decided to make him a sidearmer.
"It didn't work," Cordier said. "I wasn't able to find the release point."
Cordier reported to instructional league, where he resumed throwing overhand with the blessing of Pirates pitching coaches.
Three days later, his fastball reached 99 mph.
Cordier explained that he resumed using his natural arm slot and tried to avoid rushing toward home plate in his pitching delivery.
"I'm still fighting that today," admitted Cordier, who has used the inside of his cap as a fabric Post-it note.
"I actually write little things in my hat," Cordier said. "Sometimes I take my hat off and look at it, just as a reminder to stay back, stay through [the delivery]."
Cordier knows he must keep reading. He avoided walks in two of four appearances but issued three free passes last Friday against Kansas City. In the Majors, possessing a lively fastball isn't good enough.
"Mastering it will be the other part," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "If it's controlled, it's a tremendous weapon. He speeds up bats. That thing is not easy, but he's done a nice job with it."
Righetti indicated that he has refrained from overcoaching Cordier, though the hurler has been advised that throwing with less strain might improve his command.
"I'm sure he's been told all kinds of things," Righetti said.
Continuing to pitch effectively is Cordier's response.
"The way I am, I'm just trying to go about my business and hopefully let my on-the-mound presence speak for itself," he said. "They've seen something in me and I'm going to show exactly what they see in me already and build on it."