NEW BRITAIN - Eric Fornataro had anything but a conventional season in 2016.
Among the New Britain Bees first signings as an organization, he was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles before the season even began. But after 10 games in Double-A, he found himself released and heading back to New Britain only to be cut a month and a half later.
His initial time with Bees did not go smoothly. From June 4 to July 28, he appeared in 19 games, collecting a 1-4 record with a 5.60 ERA. After twenty days as a free agent and drawing no interest, Fornataro returned to the Bees on Aug. 18 after one of their relievers went down with an arm injury.
But instead of struggling as he had before, during the rest of the time Fornataro was in New Britain, he and his numbers got increasingly better.
In 15 appearances to end the season, the right-hander finished went 0-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 24 2/3 innings on the mound. The ERA could have been lower had it not been for a mop-up duty outing at the end of the season when he was charged with eight runs. Toss that outing aside and Fornataro only allowed one earned run during that stretch.
The difference? Fornataro and then-pitching coach Jason Blanton made some minor tweaks to his mechanics and delivery, switching the side of the rubber he set up on and adjusting his arm angle.
“It was something I’ve always done is be on the first base side of the rubber and gave it a try on the third base side and worked on staying closed and not opening up as fast,” Fornataro said. “It made a big difference on how guys would react to the fastball even if I wasn’t throwing hard that day. They always seemed to be late or not see it as well.”
Now, as the 29-year-old begins his second season with the Bees, Fornataro will be not only be looking to maintain the consistency he found in his second stint with the team last season, but will also be trying to do it from a new role. Instead of coming out of the bullpen, Fornataro is slated to start against the Lancaster Barnstormers in the fifth game of season.
“I’ve been a bullpen guy and been a bullpen guy in the big leagues,” he said. “That’s definitely my bread and butter. But at this point, I think some teams want to see guys throw more innings and that’s definitely something I can do. I don’t mind throwing six, seven innings and giving it a try. I talked to [Bees manager] Stan [Cliburn] about where I wanted to go in my career and I think there’s more opportunity in me starting.”
Fornataro does have some starting experience during his time in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system. The last time Fornataro was a regular starter, however, was back in 2011 in High-A when he logged 24 starts. He has made just nine starts since.
“For me, I’d like to go out and get at least six strong innings and go from there because you have to realize that there are other guys here who are trying to get looks,” Fornataro said. “It’s different than with a minor league team. Everyone needs an opportunity to pitch and you don’t want to be selfish and go out there for the seventh inning, eighth inning just to boost your own numbers.
“I think if I can go five, six innings consistently, getting a lot of groundballs and throwing strikes, then that’s my plan.”
As a player making the transition from one pitching role to another, Fornataro admitted the mentality between the two is vastly different. As a reliever, it is about going all-out in the one or two innings you are called upon whereas as a starter, it is about being even keeled and building your pitches up as the innings go along.
At the end of the day, Fornataro believes coming out of the bullpen suits him best, but the reality of the situation he is in being in the Atlantic League has dictated otherwise. Thus the switch.
“I like the bullpen life just because I like the opportunity of playing every day,” Fornataro said. “I like being involved every day and I like the challenge of being back to throw in back-to-back-to-back days. But at this point, some scouts want to see a guy my age throw some innings.
“Every team has right-handed relievers. It’s way different being a lefty out of the bullpen. I’m a conventional hard-throwing righty and every team has 10-20 of those guys. Unless you have a sub-1.00 ERA it’s going to be pretty hard to get noticed. But as a starter, throwing 93-96 [mph], that gets noticed a lot more.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach