NEW BRITAIN - Despite being a 32-year-old veteran with four seasons of Atlantic League experience and more than 200 starts in the minor leagues, it has been a season of learning for New Britain Bees starting pitcher Cory Riordan.
The former Somerset Patriots hurler has battled age and a lengthy recovery from a shoulder injury so far this season, and both have played a factor in the righty having to reinvent a pitching motion that he has repeated for almost his entire 13-year career in professional baseball.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to what I was when I was 28,” Riordan said. “It’s about figuring out what arm slot works, what pitches are still biting and which ones probably aren’t good to throw. I have to figure out when I can push the envelope and when I need to back off.”
The adjustment hasn’t always been easy. Riordan entered his last start on Wednesday night with an ERA near six, but for the second straight outing, he showed a step in the right direction. Facing the first place High Point Rockers, Riordan tossed 6 1/3 innings and allowed just one run on four hits, lowering his ERA to 5.67 and recording his second quality start in a row.
Everything has been a learning experience for Riordan when he’s on the mound, and finally, those lessons seem to be producing positive results.
“It’s been going pretty well lately,” Riordan said. “We’re avoiding the big inning.”
Things are looking up for Riordan, but the learning never ends, not for a pitcher who is north of 30 and looking to avoid another significant injury. Even in his quality start two weeks back, Riordan was forced to navigate through symptoms of an aging pitcher, serving as another reminder of where he stands in his already long baseball career.
“I think we (Riordan and catcher Logan Moore) didn’t do a good job last game of figuring out soon enough that my fastball was getting hit but the cut fastball was missing barrels,” Riordan said. “That’s just where I’m at in my career, and we need to make the most of it.”
Not having an effective fastball is enough to frighten any pitcher and his manager, but Riordan and Bees manager Mauro Gozzo have come to a collective understanding of Riordan’s on-the-fly game plan, toying with whatever happens to be moving on a given start while adjusting to new arm slots to ensure an injury-free outing.
“I saw a very smart pitcher that can command his stuff,” Gozzo said of Riordan’s strong start against High Point. “His stuff isn’t what it used to be years ago, or even at the beginning of the year, but he’s learned to adapt to what he has. He knows the weaknesses of the opposing batters.”
Perhaps more importantly, Riordan knows his own weaknesses, and while it’s been a tough journey weaving around them, he has been building momentum and confidence over his last two starts, while his physical health continues to improve after a long absence.
“I think the most impressive thing is that he’s able to pitch at a different arm slot than he was pitching at, and is still able to command his pitches,” Gozzo said. “That takes a lot of feel. It looks like he’s trying to get up to his normal slot, and that means he’s getting his strength back. In terms of knowing what’s working and what isn’t, he’s a master at it.”
As his physical health improves and his limitations are addressed, Riordan turns his focus toward the team as a whole. Riordan is part of a pitching staff with the highest collective ERA in the Atlantic League and he hopes as he learns more about his new self and what he can do, he will be able to turn in more starts like he did on Wednesday.
“You can’t draw it up any better than needing only one or two guys in the back end of the bullpen and keep other guys fresh through August and September,” Riordan said. “Hopefully we can continue to improve and make a run at this thing and sneak into the playoffs.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com