“I talked to the guys at Triple-A today about him, and they said he has a knack to make people swing and miss,” Manager Terry Collins said. “Who knows why? But it’s working. It’s always worked for him. He’s a perfect example of a guy who hasn’t changed what he used to get here.”
Until last summer, Sewald did not know why his fastball worked. He knew he had a good slider; opponents had hit him hard at the University of San Diego before he learned the pitch from his father, Mark, a former college pitcher. But when his strikeout rate rose after the Mets drafted him — in the 10th round in 2012 — Sewald could not explain it.
“I didn’t really know why sometimes I got away with a 90-mile-an-hour fastball when others didn’t,” he said. “For me it was kind of like, ‘I don’t know, I just go out there and throw strikes.’”
Sewald climbed steadily through the Mets’ farm system, with more strikeouts than innings at every level, always in relief. A starter as a college senior, he said he was glad the Mets stashed him in the bullpen, where there would be more opportunities.
Last summer, as that chance came into view, Sewald got a fascinating email from T. J. Barra, the Mets’ director of baseball research and development. Barra’s data showed not only that Sewald should trust his slider more, but that his fastball was not so ordinary, after all.
While the average fastball makes about 2,200 revolutions per minute, Sewald said his makes about 2,400. That means the pitch does not drop at the same rate as most fastballs, making it appear to hop, or rise, to the hitter. To Sewald, it is just a four-seam fastball, nothing unusual about his grip or the way the ball comes off his fingers.
“And I can’t tell anybody in this room how to do it,” he said. “I have no idea when it happened or how it happened.”
Sewald throws his fastball with about two-thirds of his pitches. He throws his slider about one-third of the time. A small leftover sliver belongs to his changeup, and the man with more victories than any other living pitcher — Greg Maddux — believes he should use it more.
Sewald has thrown in the bullpen for Maddux, who works as a volunteer pitching coach for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, in Sewald’s hometown. Las Vegas has become a hotbed for ballplayers — including Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant, Sewald’s childhood friend and college teammate — but Maddux is the city’s best baseball export.
“He has so much knowledge that none of us will understand, so he needs an outlet for it,” Sewald said. “He’s like, ‘I just need to tell somebody how to pitch.’ It’s unbelievable.
“When he told me my changeup was plus, it kind of surprised me. My first bullpen, he was like, ‘So your changeup is your best off-speed pitch.’ And I told him: ‘Um, no. I could go a whole season without throwing a changeup, honestly.’ He was like, ‘What do you mean?’ I didn’t have a ton of confidence with it, and I couldn’t really throw it for strikes. That blew his mind.”
Maddux’s encouragement has helped Sewald believe in the changeup, and he said he wants to use it more against left-handers, who have hit him well. His best attribute of all, though, is a deceptive drop-and-drive delivery — another gift for which he takes no credit.
“I wouldn’t say that’s how I wanted to pitch; I probably would have thrown more conventionally like everybody else on my team if I had tried to do that,” Sewald said. “I think I just slowly got into bad habits and formed a lower angle, stepping across my body — and now it works for me.”
It is working well enough to make Sewald a reliable option for a team that never expected to need him so badly.