Brewers Lefthander Ethan Small Unveils New Grip On His Slider
Lefthander Ethan Small had little choice but to figure out a new grip on his slider.
The 24-year-old was sidelined for an extended period during the second half of the 2021 season at Triple-A Nashville with an inflamed tendon in the middle finger on his pitching hand, shortly after appearing in the Futures Game.
Small eventually linked that injury to the way he gripped his slider, necessitating a change. He experimented with throwing a cutter instead but wasn’t convinced it complemented his low-90s fastball, which had natural cutting movement.
Instead, he settled on a new slider grip that took pressure off his middle finger.
To make up for lost innings, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Small went to the Dominican League to make five starts for Escogido. He performed well there, capping an impressive year that included stops at Double-A Biloxi and Nashville, where he combined for a 1.98 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 77.1 innings.
A 2019 first-round pick out of Mississippi State, Small has relied primarily on his deceptive fastball and a knee-buckling changeup, the best in the organization.
Small’s goals in 2022 are to stay healthy while continuing to make strides with his slider. He mixes in an occasional curveball to show hitters a slower breaking ball, but he was most pleased with the number of ground balls he induced last year by pitching inside more with his fastball and keeping his changeup down in the zone.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever got that many ground balls in my life,” he said. “Even in the D.R., I was getting these weak ground balls off my fastball. I only throw four-seamers, so I’m not sure if that’s due to the cut on them or what.”
The Brewers’ strength in 2021 was a deep, talented rotation that returns basically intact for 2022. Small, who likely will return to Nashville, realizes his job is to be ready should an opening on the big league staff occur at some point.
— Outfielder Garrett Whitley, a the Rays' first-round pick in 2015, signed a minor league deal with the Brewers with an invitation to big league camp. Whitley, 24, split the 2021 season between Double-A and Triple-A.
— First baseman Jon Singleton, 30, who sought to revive his career with a solid showing in the Mexican League in 2021—he hit 15 homers with a 1.196 OPS in 46 games—signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.