Townsley channels inner reliever as starter

Marlins left-hander adjusting to his new role in Grasshoppers rotation

Sean Townsley has struck out 78 batters over 89 South Atlantic League innings this year. (Dano Keeney/

By Ashley Marshall / | July 16, 2014 12:32 AM ET

Sean Townsley won't go as far as saying he was wild during his last few months of collegiate ball, but he's the first to admit his lack of command probably hurt his Draft stock and caused him to be taken as a reliever.

A little over a year later, the High Point graduate is channeling the mentality he honed in the bullpen to shine as a member of Greensboro's rotation.

Townsley allowed three singles and two walks while striking out five batters over seven innings in the Class A Grasshoppers' rain-shortened 4-0 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds on Tuesday.

"They drafted me as a reliever. In college, I didn't have command of my fastball to both sides of the plate as much and they were a little bit afraid to put me in the starting rotation," said the southpaw, who was part of the Grasshoppers' piggyback system over his first 12 games of the year.

"But between the GCL and short-season A, I had only four or five walks and I was able to dial in mechanically to both sides of the plate. I'm always learning something new. Through college, I realized how important it was to keep the leadoff runner off base with freebies whether hit by pitch or walk, so I focused on keeping the ball down in the zone."

Wet conditions caused the game to be called in the bottom of the seventh inning at NewBridge Bank Park, but Tuesday's performance gave Townsley his fifth consecutive win and his first career complete-game shutout.

He allowed singles in the first, fifth and seventh frames, but no batter reached third base against him. The 6-foot 23-year-old, who throws a four- and two-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup and a knuckle curve, faced four above the minimum and threw 56 of 83 pitches for strikes.

"It was just a little sloppy out there because it was constantly raining," Townsley said. "It was slick under my plant foot, and I was trying to keep the mud off the bottom of my cleats. I was able to locate with my fastball the first time through the order, so I didn't have to worry about throwing the slider or curveball and flying open arm-side."

The knuckle curveball, especially the current version, is a relatively new addition for him. Townsley started throwing a two-seam knuckleball about two years ago, but Greensboro pitching coach Jeremy Powell encouraged him to change his grip to four seams before Spring Training to subtract some velocity and add more movement.

"Technically, it's not a curveball. I like to classify it as a slurve. Sometimes it's 11-5, other times it's 10-4," he said. "[Powell] just wanted a sharper break to it. Now the four-seam knuckle curve is slower, about 73-75 mph. Before it was 77-80."

The North Carolina native lowered his ERA to 2.22. Since June 24, Townsley is a perfect 5-0. He's allowed four runs over 34 innings and has struck out 31 batters while walking eight.

Just two weeks before the streak began, he was still alternating starts and relief appearances.

"For the first half of the season, I was in the piggyback role," said Townsley, who walked six batters and hit four more in five combined innings over his last five college games at the end of the 2013 season. "Ever since the second half started, I've been able to get on a five-day rotation and I feel like I've been able to dial in. I understand why they had me in the piggyback role, but I didn't know whether I'd come in the fifth inning, the sixth inning, whatever. As a reliever, that's to be expected, but it's a lot easier to be in a set routine."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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