Deceptive breaking ball serves Coke well

Deceptive breaking ball serves Coke well

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Friday was the last day Major League teams could cut loose players with non-guaranteed contracts and only be responsible for one-sixth of their salary. Phil Coke wasn't headed in that direction, even after his early spring struggles.

That wasn't much of a curveball Friday. The sharper breaking ball Coke threw to the Washington Nationals was.

"It felt pretty good," Coke said. "As I get deeper into spring, the better it feels."

Technically, it's not a true curveball that Coke throws, it's closer to a slider. However, Coke spent a side session Thursday slowing down his delivery more and more until it looked like a curveball.

"It's more like a curveball because I'm getting my fingers in front of the ball," Coke said.

Coke entered Friday's 12-6 win over the Nationals in the middle of the fifth inning with a runner on third and nobody out, rather than starting an inning fresh, and the top of the Nationals' order due up. He seemingly responded to the atmosphere, retiring Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Nate McLouth in order.

The left-handed Span was a bit of an escape, popping out softly to third on a breaking ball Coke didn't throw as well as he wanted. Rendon's groundout was the type of swing Coke wanted, making weak contact off the end of the bat.

McLouth was the best display of a total at-bat. He fell into an 0-2 count before Coke's 1-2 pitch dropped to the dirt, sending McLouth swinging over it. It was his third strikeout of a left-handed hitter in his last two outings.

"The very last breaking ball on the strikeout was the sharpest breaking ball he's thrown yet," manager Brad Ausmus said. "So that was good to see. And he topped out at 91-92 [mph] today."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.