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Nationals' Sterling Sharp Looking To Add To Power Sink

Sterling_Sharp_AFL_BillMitchell.jpg
Sterling Sharp (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

MESA, Ariz. — Call it turbo sink, power sink or just a heavy ball. Whatever it is, Sterling Sharp has it in spades. Though he’s always had excellent groundout-to-flyout ratios, this year was exceptional. 

The athletic Nationals righthander induced 3.91 groundouts per flyout in 2019, good for fifth best among all minor leaguers who pitched 50 or more innings. His fastball moves hard and late, forcing batter after batter to beat the ball into the ground. 

“I picked it up about two years ago, and from that day it’s just naturally sunk,” the 24-year-old Sharp said. “I don’t think I’ve done anything to try to make it do more. I just realized that it’s been working for me, and I’ve stuck to it.”

He picked up the pitch by studying a former Nationals reliever and then taking the lessons he learned into the next season.

“I saw a (Blake) Treinen interview when he was still with the Nationals,” Sharp said. “He was going over his pitch grips, so I saw his sinker grip and I went into the next spring training—the first spring training we had in West Palm Beach—and that was the first time I gripped the sinker and spent the whole spring training just working on it. It felt good.”

Going deeper, Sharp—whom the Nationals selected out of Drury (Mo.) in the 26th round of the 2016 draft—explained why the new grip, combined with his natural arm stroke, makes the ball sink the way it does.

“A lot of it’s the grip, but a lot of it’s my natural release,” he said. “I’m more inside the baseball, like a low three-quarter (arm slot), so on release I’m kind of getting pronated inside the ball more than most. I think that’s what gives it sidespin and topspin and drops the ball.”

In the AFL, though, Sharp’s numbers have been uncharacteristic. He’s 2-1, 1.93 over four starts, but his groundout-to-flyout ratio is below 2.00.

It’s not that his sinker has deserted him, but rather that he’s spending his time in the AFL trying to increase his arsenal. His fastball and changeup are both dynamite, but both also move the same direction—in on righthanded hitters. Now he’s adding a slider to give him something that will move away from righties. 

In doing so, he’ll also make himself more effective against righthanders, who hit .322/.393/.421 against him this year.

Once fully developed, the pitch will allow Sharp to start “making X’s” at the bottom of the zone. That is, he’ll have two pitches that follow the same path for most of their journey to the plate but move in opposite directions at the very end.

Some pitchers throw the kitchen sink at hitters. Sharp prefers to use his sink to get in hitters’ kitchens.

NOTES

— Giants catcher Joey Bart's season is over after a hit by pitch on Tuesday resulted in a fractured thumb. The injury, first reported by MLB.com, will not require surgery but will take 4-6 weeks to heal. Bart was slated to play in the upcoming Fall Stars Game.

— A pair of power-armed righthanders showed their stuff on Wednesday. Rangers righthander A.J. Alexy, who missed all but a month of the regular season with a strained lat muscle, sat in the upper 90s in the first inning against Mesa before settling into the mid-90s later in the outing. He finished with three strikeouts in three, one-run innings.

— In the nightcap, Twins righthander Dakota Chalmers showed flashes of dominant stuff in between bouts of wildness. Chalmers, who finished his recovery from the Tommy John surgery he had in 2018, fronted a three-pitch mix with a mid-90s fastball that featured wicked two-seam life and a changeup with action that at times mirrored the fastball. He backed up both of those pitches with a mid-70s curveball that was inconsistent but had power downer action at its best.

— The evening game between Glendale and Salt River featured a pair of home runs from players with similar backgrounds. Rays outfielder Josh Lowe got the Rafters on the board early with a two-run bomb to right field off of White Sox lefty Bernardo Flores. Later in the game, D-backs outfield prospect Jake McCarthy put one out against White Sox righty Tyler Johnson. Both players have brothers in pro ball—Lowe's brother, Nate, plays for the Rays, and Jake's brother, Joe, was drafted by the Rays and dealt to the Giants this summer—and both players hit their homers on flat changeups.

— Royals outfield prospect Kyle Isbel showed opposite-field power against Mesa when he went with a 92 mph fastball from starter Keegan Thompson and shot it over the left-field fence at Sloan Park. Isbel went 2-for-4 in the game and is hitting .347 in the fall.

Dany Jimenez Mikejanesfourseam

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