In a late April article, Auburn Citizen writer Ben Meyers wrote about Ross Ohlendorf's new but decidedly old school delivery. The 30-year-old right-hander signed with the Washington Nationals in January of 2013, and he was plying his trade on the mound at Triple-A Syracuse, pitching for the defending NL East Champions' top affiliate and hoping for another chance to pitch at the major league level. Ohlendorf's best season in the majors came in 2009 when the then-26-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates' starter was (11-10) with a 3.92 ERA in 29 starts and 176.2 IP in the first full MLB season with the team that acquired him as part of a package in a July 2008 trade that sent Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from Pittsburgh to New York.
After the '09 season with the Pirates, Ohlendorf struggled, going (6-18) with a 5.80 ERA over a combined 195.2 IP in three seasons with the Pirates (2010-11) and San Diego Padres (2012). "I haven't been happy with my last two years," Ohlendorf told the Auburn Citizen's Mr. Meyers, "but I am feeling really good now and I am pretty excited about this season."
Ohlendorf was making a go of it with a new delivery. "I started with (the wind up) this year," he told Mr. Meyers. Ohlendorf swings his arms behind his back, brings them forward and then over his head where they meet as he starts toward the plate and having built up momentum continues toward home.
Ohlendorf may look like a relic of a bygone era of pitching mechanics, but as he explained, "If it felt uncomfortable, I just wouldn't do it. I have done similar things in the past, but I don't think I have let my arms swing that much in the past in games, but I have done it before playing catch." A little over six weeks later, after going, (4-5) with a 4.27 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, 30 walks (3.77 BB/9) and 67 Ks (8.41 K/9) in 71.2 IP with the Syracuse Chiefs, Ohlendorf was back on the mound in the majors last night pitching for the Nationals in the second game of a three-game set in Coors Field in Colorado.
Ohlendorf held the Rockies to just a hit and one walk through five scoreless innings Wednesday night, throwing 64 pitches over that stretch and keeping the opposing hitters off-balance. A one-out walk to Dexter Fowler in the sixth was erased when Jonathan Herrera grounded into a force, but Herrera stole second with Carlos Gonzalez at the plate and scored Colorado's first run when CarGo tripled off the wall in left with two down. Troy Tulowitzki battled for eight pitches in the next at bat, but ultimately flew out to center to end the sixth with Washington up 4-1 in what ended up a 5-1 Nationals' win.
Ohlendorf threw 89 pitches, 54 of them strikes in 6.0 IP in his return to the majors, allowing just two hits, two walks and the one earned run. Nats' manager Davey Johnson was impressed. "That was an outstanding effort he put out there," Johnson said, "I'm looking forward to seeing more of him." The Nationals' skipper liked the way Ohlendorf attacked hitters. "He used all his pitches, but basically went right after them. It's a good-hitting ballclub and he made his pitches and went deep in the ballgame. It isn't easy in this ballpark."
While most expected it would be a spot start for Ohlendorf with Ross Detwiler due back from the DL tonight and Stephen Strasburg expected to return this weekend, Johnson said he might see if he can find a way to keep Ohlendorf with the team. "I'm going to try to find a way to keep him around," Johnson told reporters after the Nats' win. "I was really impressed. He really had a low pitch count. I kind of leaned on him that last inning, just trying to save --actually I was trying to save [Craig] Stammen [to] be available tomorrow, [Detwiler] is going to have probably a short day and [Stammen] is my only long man. But [Ohlendorf] did a great job, he battled through that last inning and that won the ballgame for us."
"He had a decent curve ball and slider, and he's using both sides of the plate," Johnson said when asked what was behind Ohlendorf's success, "And I liked his windup too, that reminded me of some old fashioned windups."