Jimmy Cordero put up a 1.67 ERA, a 2.72 FIP, 21 walks (4.40 BB/9), and 47 Ks (9.84 K/9) in 38 appearances and 43 innings pitched at Triple-A Syracuse last season before he was called up to make his MLB debut in early August, showing off a 98-101 MPH fastball, a 97-99 MPH sinker, an 85-88 MPH curve, an 89-92 MPH slider, and a 90-92 MPH changeup in 19 innings on the mound with the Washington Nationals.
Before calling Cordero up, Nationals’ General Manager Rizzo teased the fact that he had options in the minors when he discussed the trade that sent Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs. and some of the bullpen reshuffling the front office was doing at the time.
“We’ve got a kid named Cordero down [at Triple-A] that throws 100 mph that’s really taken the next step up, so we may see him soon,” the Nats’ GM told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies after the non-waiver deadline last summer.
“He’s been lights out,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, after Cordero actually got the call in the first week of August.
“He’s throwing 97 mph to 99 mph. He’s got a really good slider. The biggest thing for us after seeing him in Spring Training is that he’s throwing strikes both with his fastball and his slider.
“I talked to him earlier today. I told him I didn’t want him to change anything. Make sure you go through your routine like you’ve been doing and be ready to pitch. Pound the strike zone. The biggest thing here is you come in, the walks. If they hit you, they hit you. Don’t give anybody free bases.”
Cordero told reporters in his first interview after getting the call, that before coming up he was concentrating on his fastball command at Triple-A.
“Primarily been working on my fastball command,” he said. “It’s definitely been working and working a little bit on my breaking pitches, both my curveball and my slider.
“I’ve been working a lot with the [Chiefs’ Pitching Coach Brad Holman] down there, and in my case, it’s been working on [my] head along with my arm so they coincide a little bit better and I’m able to get out in front with my arm.”
Born in San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, Cordero, 27, was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for a Player to Be Named Later, (Mario Sanchez), in November of 2016.
He was up and down in his time in the Nats’ bullpen, with Martinez talking at times about his electric stuff and the need to execute and command pitches, and put hitters away when he got to two strikes.
“I told him, ‘When you have two strikes you’ve got to bury those pitches,” Martinez said after the righty gave up four hits and three earned runs in a 1⁄3 of an inning of work on September 17th, surrendering four straight singles, two of them on 0-2 pitches.
“‘There’s no way they should put them in play with your stuff,” the manager told him, before adding that, “ ... he’s going to learn, and he’s going to be really good too.”
In his time in the majors, Cordero put up a 5.68 ERA, a 5.48 FIP, 12 walks (5.68 BB/9), and 12 Ks (5.68 K/9), with opposing hitters posting a combined .288/.394/.400 line against him.
The majority of the damage, and all of the extra base hits he allowed (three doubles and two home runs), came off his four-seam fastball, against which opposing hitters had a .400 AVG.
What did he learn from his time in the Nats’ bullpen about what led to the damage that was done in spite of his velocity?
“I felt like my straight [fastball] was like my best pitch,” Cordero explained when he spoke to reporters at the Nationals’ Winterfest event earlier this month, “... but the batters at this level are much better, so I really realized I need to take a step back and those pitches that I thought maybe were my strong ones I really need to perfect those because it’s just a different level here.”
How is his preparation different this year, now that he got a feel for what big league hitters are like?
“It’s actually really different,” Cordero said. “I feel like when I was in the minors it was just sort of prep all around and show up and work on things. With the big league level it’s like the focus is so much more different.
“You pick out specific things you really need to work on, and you really need to go in there ready versus using that time to get ready.
“So you take a lot away from where you need to perfect, where you made mistakes and that’s where you come in with the mindset of.”
As for what, specifically, he’ll be working on this winter?
“There’s this physical part,” Cordero said, “... but I feel like at the big league level, the mental aspect is so big, so I really have to go in there and practice just how to keep myself calm in the games. I’ll also be working on my mechanics and my timing.”