While Lance Cormier knows he's got a good shot at being an Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher this year, he's not about to say he's nailed down a spot in the rotation.
At least, not yet.
"Not until someone tells me I'm going to be one of the starters in the rotation," Cormier said.
Cormier might be called into the office soon after another impressive performance Tuesday afternoon. With the big league Braves enjoying their only day off of the spring, Cormier pitched for the Richmond Braves against Detroit's Triple-A roster. He pitched six scoreless innings and allowed only three hits, walked two, and struck out five.
"A couple of times it was a struggle today with my control," Cormier said. "I fell behind a couple of hitters and just went right after them and let them get themselves out. It worked out in my favor today."
In his four previous outings in the Grapefruit League, Cormier had three wins and allowed only two runs on 11 hits in 14 innings for a 1.29 ERA. He's also thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings. Cormier is battling Kyle Davies and Mark Redman for one of the two remaining spots in the Atlanta rotation.
Being a starter is nothing new for Cormier, who was in the rotation at the University of Alabama for a few years before being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002. The right-hander then started for two years in the Diamondbacks' farm system before a callup to the big leagues in 2004.
"It's just something I've always done – starting," he said.
Arizona gave Cormier five starts, but he also made twelve relief appearances. Then in 2005 Cormier became a full-time reliever, pitching in 67 games out of the D'Backs' pen.
"When I look back I might have been rushed to the big leagues because we had a bad team that year and I was having a good year in Double-A and Triple-A," Cormier said. "I probably wasn't ready. The next year I had 67 appearances out of the bullpen and that gave me some good experience just pitching to big league hitters where I didn't have to go six, seven, or eight innings. I could get in there and get out. It let me get some experience that way."
And when the Braves acquired Cormier and Oscar Villarreal for Johnny Estrada in December of 2005, it was as a reliever. The Braves wanted him to help out in a bullpen full of questions.
"I never really thought I'd start again," Cormier admitted.
Cormier was on the Opening Day roster last April as a reliever, but the injuries in the rotation quickly forced the Braves to reconsider Cormier's role.
He made two starts in June, struggling with seven earned runs allowed in 9.2 innings. And then in August the Braves needed him back in the rotation. His second stint was a success: 2-2, 3.76 ERA, 46 hits in 38.1 innings, 16 earned runs, 13 walks, and 30 strikeouts. The quality starts convinced Cormier he could be an effective starter in the big leagues.
"It gives you the confidence that you can," he said. "Until you show that you can there will always be question marks in your head and everybody else's. Those starts definitely gave me that confidence and hopefully the coaches and front office folks as well."
When spring training started Cormier was considered a long shot to make the rotation. Then the Braves became a bit worried about Kyle Davies, who missed half of last year with groin surgery. Davies might need to go to Richmond for a while to work on his mechanics before being ready to re-join the rotation.
And then Mike Hampton got hurt, straining his oblique and putting his return to the rotation on hold. That quickly made Cormier a very important man, even with the signing of Redman to give the Braves depth.
It also helped that Cormier pitched well early on in camp, showing the Braves his impressive starts at the end of last season were not a fluke. He's simply showing that he's very comfortable as a starting pitcher.
"I had to adjust to relieving, but this is always something I've done and wanted to do," Cormier said. "I feel like the routine I can get into suits me better."
And even though there are ten more days left in spring training, Cormier is winning the job. He's well aware of how important it is to be an Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher.
"Especially with the background that the Braves' staffs have had throughout the whole streak and what we want to get back to," Cormier said. "So that would be a great thing. I just want to be out there helping the team win, whether it's in the rotation or bullpen. But if you get a chance to be in the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation, it would be a great thing."
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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