ThunderBolts reliever Reese McGraw baffling Frontier League hitters with under-the-top approach
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media August 10, 2014 5:10PM
ThunderBolts sidearm closer Reese McGraw comes in to shut out the Frontier Grey, Sunday, May 18th, 2014 in Crestwood. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 12, 2014 6:18AM
Reese McGraw still sees himself as a sidearm pitcher, but that — apparently — has changed for the Windy City ThunderBolts reliever.
“I’ve always thought I’ve thrown from the same point, but I’ve been told over the years I’ve slowly gotten lower and now I’m below sidearm,” McGraw said. “I guess I have this own picture in my head that’s different from what I’m actually doing. I guess I’m a submarine guy now, but I don’t even know when it happened.”
Whatever you call it, McGraw’s delivery has puzzled Frontier League hitters all season. He entered the weekend with a 2.48 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 29 innings.
McGraw believes he has a mental edge coming into the game, knowing hitters become uncomfortable the second they see him warm up, throwing from the unconventional angle.
“I’ve heard from our hitters that they hate facing sidearmers,” he said. “It’s always a good feeling coming in and knowing guys are uncomfortable. At the same time, you have difficulty with missing spots left to right.
Going inside and outside on guys is a little trickier. Sometimes umpires don’t pick up on the pitches, too. I’ve had sliders right over the middle, but the way they came in, they got called balls. So that’s tougher, but it goes both ways.”
McGraw began throwing sidearm during his senior year in high school, the result of his coach seeing him in action as a quarterback.
“When I threw a football, it was more three-quarters,” he said. “My coach told me to try that with a baseball, too. When I threw over the top I didn’t have enough movement and I didn’t have the speed to beat hitters. I started messing with it and halfway through my senior year, I started only throwing sidearm.”
McGraw signed with the T-Bolts on July 5, 2013, after being released by the Southern Illinois Miners and quickly became one of the team’s most reliable relievers.
This year, he’s formed one of the top trios of back-end relievers in the league with Daniel Carela and Jessie Snodgrass. “Reese is definitely one of those guys that we count on,” T-Bolts manager Ron Biga said. “We have a lot of trust in him to come in and get the job done.”
McGraw said he, Carela and Snodgrass feed off one another’s success.
“It’s always a little battle,” he said. “You always want to see who has the better stats. It’s always a competition. The whole point of it is to come in, get your zero, and get out of there.”
He also loves being the guy to come in with the game on the line.
“It’s awesome because everybody loves to watch the end of a ballgame,” he said. “It’s fun to always be in there at that important part of the game when everybody’s locked in. The hitters, the fielders, the fans. I’ve pitched when we’re up 10, down 10, and a close game. When you come in with the bases loaded, up one, there’s definitely a different feel to it.
“I like to be the guy depended on to get out of those spots.”