Braves' Wisler turns to HOFer Glavine to help with changeup

BY Cory McCartney • January 31, 2016

ATLANTA -- The two met for a cup of coffee that expanded into a two-hour conversation on pitching, and in particular Matt Wisler's changeup. The Braves' 23-year-old right-hander had the ear of Tom Glavine, who built his Hall of Fame resume with that very pitch, and Wisler was taking full advantage.

"That was his big pitch and that's why I wanted to get with him on it," Wisler said. "That was his bit pitch and I need to make that a bit priority this offseason so I can handle lefties a little better this coming year, so it was a pitch I needed to learn.

I think it will be a good pitch for righties too. He was talking to me about when he used to throw it, the confidence he had in it and just kind of how to go about throwing it."

It was during a Sept. 29 start against the Nationals at Turner Field that the topic in the FOX Sports South broadcast booth turned into Wisler's changeup. The rookie was in the midst of throwing seven innings of one-hit ball, but that pitch in particular had haunted him for most of the season. As catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was behind the plate for that outing, said, "I remember talking to him, and for a long stretch of starts (the changeup) was too hard."

Wisler threw his changeup just 151 times last season, as the slider -- which he delivered 438 times -- became his most-used secondary pitch. Much of that had to do with its ineffectiveness; batters had a 97.1 contact rate in offerings inside the strike zone, the highest of his arsenal, and it also had the lowest swing rate in general at 42.4.

So when Glavine announced during that outing vs. Washington "I'm a phone call away," Wisler took him up on the offer.

"Some people told me that and I wanted to get in touch with him and I got his number from (Braves president of baseball operations) John Hart and texted him," Wisler said.

Glavine had long been enamored with Wisler, noting the similarities in "how he goes about his business," and most importantly, his willingness to ask for help.

"What I like about him is that he's eager to learn stuff, eager to ask questions and you don't get that a lot with young guys," Glavine said. "I know I wasn't like that when I was a younger player."

Famously, the two-seam circle change was a pitch Glavine had found by accident. It was during spring training in 1989 when a ball rolled toward him and he picked it up, his middle and ring fingers along the seam, with tip of his index finger on top of his thumbnail. He threw it ever since, a pitch he would always have confidence in during a 22-year career that included 305 wins and two Cy Young awards.

Now he was imparting that wisdom on one of the Braves' young arms, as the two decided to set aside time to work together when Wisler began throwing off the mound. They were joined by veteran catcher Tyler Flowers, who signed a two-year deal with Atlanta in December.

"I thought it was good," Flowers said. "I think Tom had some good advice for him to simplify his thoughts and his mentality on specifically the changeup and when he was trying to execute it arm-side vs. opposite arm-side. I think it was a good lesson for him."

Wisler went 8-8 with a 4.71 ERA in 109 innings over 19 starts last season and ended with an impressive three-start stretch that included three combined earned runs in 22 2/3 innings against the Mets, Nationals and Cardinals.

With All-Star Shelby Miller since traded to the Diamondbacks and Julio Teheran and Bud Norris the only pitchers certain to break spring training in the rotation, the Braves could benefit from Wisler building off that strong finish to 2015.

Especially if he can do so with an improved changeup.

"If you're going to pick a guy Tom Glavine is the guy to go to," Pierzynski said. "Hopefully he comes in and believes in it and you've just got to throw it and have confidence in a pitch."

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told' comes out April 5, 2016.