Coleman part of bright outlook for KC bullpen
Reliever built strong foundation for future with rookie campaign
KANSAS CITY -- Baseball is a game of adjustments. Pitching is often rooted in the art of deception. Royals reliever Louis Coleman has consistently shown he's pretty good at both.
Coleman was part of a rookie-dominated bullpen for Kansas City in 2011, often serving as a seventh-inning guy. Manager Ned Yost wasn't big on specific roles for his relievers, aside from using Joakim Soria as closer, but usually Coleman was brought in late in the game with the score close. Often it stayed that way.
That success puts Coleman in the midst of the Royals' bullpen outlook for 2012.
The sidearmer picked up 11 holds and a save as he compiled a 2.87 ERA over 59 2/3 innings this year. He struck out 64 batters against 26 walks, with six of the free passes being intentional. Coleman's 11 holds were tied with lefty Tim Collins for second on the team, behind Greg Holland's 18.
So overall, it was a promising rookie campaign for the Mississippi native.
"I'm very pleased," Coleman said. "Had a rough patch there at the end, but it's a learning process."
That rough patch refers to his last two appearances, when he allowed three runs in 2 2/3 innings in eventual Royals losses. Or a three-appearance stretch from Aug. 21 to 27 where he allowed three runs twice and one run in the middle outing, taking two losses in the process.
Most of the season, though, Coleman was sterling. In July, he allowed just one run and nine hits over 13 2/3 innings. That month, he picked up 15 strikeouts and had at least one punchout in all but one of his 10 appearances. He pitched six games in June and also gave up just one run.
Part of the key to that is his sidearm throwing angle -- that element of deception.
"He's got a real deception to his delivery," Yost said. "It's more deception against right-hand hitters, because he looks like he's stepping right at you, and then his arm comes out of nowhere -- it's tough to pick up. Obviously it's the same thing against left-handers."
The thing about that delivery is that it's the fourth different arm angle Coleman has used in his baseball career.
A week before his junior year at Louisiana State in 2008, Coleman went to his pitching coach and decided to change arm slots.
"I was throwing submarine and was just tired throwing from down there," he said. "I wasn't happy, wasn't getting to pitch a whole lot -- figured if I wasn't going to get to pitch, I might as well be comfortable doing it."
It seemed to work. His sophomore year, Coleman made 22 appearances for the Tigers and had a 5.59 ERA, switching to a submarine delivery partway through the season. After making the change before his junior year, he went 8-1 with a team-leading 1.95 ERA over 23 games. His senior season, he was a first-team All America and the SEC Pitcher of the Year. Coleman struck out 142 batters in 129 innings in 2009, finishing fourth in the nation in strikeouts.
And to make the end of his college career just a bit more special, he pitched the last two innings of LSU's title-clinching game over Texas in the 2009 College World Series. It wasn't the most pressure-filled situation -- the Tigers had an 11-4 lead at the time -- but that didn't lessen the joy.
"Everything that you could dream of," Coleman said. "It was a lot of fun, something I'll never forget. It was pretty cool, we had a closer that year that set the record for single-season [saves] and he was a freshman; it was his job to do it. Coach allowed me to go out there -- I gained a ton of respect for him, just allowing me to go out there when we had a closer, that's what his job is. It was really, really cool, especially being it was the last pitch I would make at LSU."
While it seems like changing to a sidearm delivery might have been the catalyst for some of that success, it was more about Coleman being comfortable than the actual mechanics of his pitching. And while he's thrown from just about every basic arm slot a pitcher can, Coleman's success with the adjustments isn't the norm.
"For some guys, they're more athletic and it's easier to change things," former Royals pitching coach Bob McClure said. "Some guys aren't as athletic and have a hard time doing it. I had a guy, Jimmy Gobble, a left-hander, and it took almost three months to teach him to throw a ball sidearm."
It took a while for Coleman to find his groove, but it appears he is now comfortable, breeding the confidence which is paramount for a reliever.
If the Royals are to achieve their goal of making the playoffs in the next year or two, it will take a confident bullpen to ensure close games don't turn into close losses. And if the core of 2011's group of relievers can help Kansas City reach the postseason, Coleman thinks the experience he got this past season will be a big part of it.
"Whenever those times do come, everyone will be a little bit more comfortable," he said.
As Coleman has shown, comfort can make a world of difference.
Adam Holt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.