Diamondbacks’ Slade Cecconi working to establish changeup amid 5th starter battle

Mar 2, 2024, 1:46 PM

Slade Cecconi...

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Slade Cecconi rubs the infield dirt as he pauses before warming up during spring training baseball workouts Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GOODYEAR — Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Slade Cecconi went into his latest spring training start with a clear objective to focus on his changeup, a pitch he’s working to establish alongside his fastball and slider.

In the majors, Cecconi was more than 85% fastball or slider last season, but veteran pitcher Merrill Kelly helped the rookie with his changeup grip. The 24-year-old started to deploy it toward the end of last season.

Cecconi’s start at Goodyear Ballpark against the Cincinnati Reds didn’t go off without a hitch, as he felt an over-reliance on the changeup threw off his balance.

“I think I just kind of used it overused it today and I lost a little bit of my identity out there as a power pitcher,” Cecconi said. “And that’s something to learn from. With this pitch being new, don’t lose my identity as a pitcher being a powerful arm.”

Cecconi delivered a 1-2-3 first inning, but a leadoff “double” threw off his second — left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. lost a popup in the lights and it dropped.

Three singles later, manager Torey Lovullo pulled Cecconi, but the right-hander went back out to start the third for another up-down as he ramps up to Opening Day. He recorded two quick outs before a walk and a single ended his night.

“I know that he’s working on a changeup and he’s got a really good feel for it. It’s a good pitch for him,” Lovullo said. “But there’s a time to work on things and there’s a time to go out and make pitches. And yeah, I’d like to see him establish who he is and just get after it.”

Cecconi was enthusiastic by the swing-and-miss he produced with the changeup, which he threw 19 times in 27 innings of work with Arizona last season, but Friday was a lesson on usage.

“I don’t want to overexpose that and then guys just sit on fastballs because they know it’s going to come at some point,” Cecconi said. “So I think there’s some give and take with that. I am very happy with how it’s developing and how I’m learning how to use it.”

Cecconi said he’s excited by the competition with the likes of Ryne Nelson and Tommy Henry for the fifth starter role, an edge he has not had in spring training before with major league innings on the line.

Prospect getting a look in big league camp has a different feel than being in the thick of a race, and Cecconi has some ground to gain given the MLB experience advantage of Henry and Nelson.

Henry has thrown five scoreless innings in spring training thus far, and Nelson was a Giants’ Jung Hoo Lee solo shot away from doing the same with 10 punch outs.

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