TOLEDO, OHIO -- When Royce Ring's velocity began to drop, the Mets decided it would best if his arm slot went down as well. While the Norfolk hurler still hasn't regained the heat that once made him a first-round pick, his new arm angle has allowed him to morph into something that is as valuable to most teams as a flame-throwing closer -- the situational lefty.
When the Mets traded for Ring in the summer of 2003, they figured they were getting the White Sox's 2002 top pick who blistered his way through the opposition at San Diego State. While Ring certainly didn't flop once he was dealt, it was evident that his low to mid-90s fastball had lost some life.
The club, looking to make Ring more valuable internally and more marketable externally, opted to change his arm slot last spring and the result has been impressive. Ring began to show some promise last season, going 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA in 33 games for Triple-A Norfolk. It was enough to earn him some time with the parent club, for whom he appeared in 15 games.
The 25-year-old, however, has blossomed this season at Norfolk and has found his niche as a left-handed specialist. He's 2-0 with eight saves and a 1.53 ERA in 27 games for the Tides, earning a spot on the International League All-Star team in the process.
While that won't guarantee Ring a return trip to New York during the second half of the season -- club brass is very happy with how Pedro Feliciano is currently performing in that role -- it has made him the subject of several internal discussions as well as opening the door for him to become a prime piece of trade bait.
"They've really re-invented him as a lefty specialist," one National League scout said. "Whether they need him with Feliciano there is another matter. But from what I've seen, he could stick in the big leagues as a specialist. You see that those kinds of guys have stuck with quite a few clubs. And he has stuff like Feliciano so there's a chance. If I had to say one way or another about him, I'd say yeah he can do it."
There are two primary factors that have contributed to Ring's success this season. He is, by his own admission and that of others within the organization, more mature. Age and experience have brought a better understanding of how to approach the game, which led to the other factor regarding his renaissance.
Ring is now throwing strikes. It's that simple. When he was in New York last season, Ring held the opposition to a .250 batting average (10-for-40). But, he couldn't keep himself out of trouble, walking 10 batters, seven of which came against left-handed hitters, in 10 2/3 innings.
"It was tough up there the first time because the strike zone is so different," said Ring during Tuesday's All-Star media day at Fifth Third Field. "I tried to be a little too fine. I felt I needed to be perfect instead of just letting the movement of the ball get the hitter out. I use more of the plate now, keep the ball down and just let the ball move.
"Dropping down really created more movement and it made the ball much tougher to hit. And I'm still working on it. I think it's helped my game overall to be able to throw the off-speed pitches for strikes and keep the ball down so that when I do give up hits, they are just singles and doubles."
Ring didn't really have an explanation as to why he lost the velocity on his fastball. He said his mechanics were starting to get off kilter and that that may have contributed to the decline in speed. But he's crept back up into the high 80s and after working with Mets' pitching coach Rick Peterson on his new delivery last spring, he's been able to use what speed he does have more effectively.
The results have been impressive. Prior to allowing an earned run Saturday against Ottawa, Ring hadn't allowed a run, earned or unearned, in 22 consecutive appearances dating back to April 17. He was even closing again for the Tides while Heath Bell was with the parent club. Left-handers are hitting .116 (5-for-43) against Ring and right-handers aren't faring much better (.217).
He also hasn't allowed a homer in 29 1/3 innings and of the 87 outs he's recorded, only 16 have been fly balls.
But Ring has no expectations about returning to New York this season. He's well aware of the success the parent club is having and that his particular talents aren't needed at this time. It's an approach that he might not have taken a few years ago.
"When I was younger I might have wanted to get up there and be at the highest level," Ring said. "I'm still young and I'm still learning so I'm just going to try and be successful down here and be ready to go if they need me."