Manny Parra was a phenom-turned-bust with the Brewers. The top-rated pitching prospect in the Milwaukee system in 2008, he battled injuries and inconsistency while logging a 5.12 ERA over five tumultuous seasons. Then he signed with Cincinnati.
Parra has been a reliable reliever since joining the Reds 15 months ago. The 31-year-old southpaw appeared in 57 games last year and struck out 11 batters per nine innings. He’s on a similar pace this season. Health is a big reason for his turnaround, as is a repertoire change. On the suggestion of Bryan Price – at the time the Reds’ pitching coach — Parra ditched his curveball in favor of a slider.
Parra’s relationship with his curveball was every bit as tumultuous as his tenure in Milwaukee. In many respects, it was the curveball that ditched him.
“I lost the feel for my curveball in late 2008, early 2009,” explained Parra. “That really hurt me, because everything else I threw was hard. My fastball was hard and my split was pretty hard. I had nothing to differentiate with, so hitters could get their timing going. If they saw the ball up, they’d let it fly.
“The more I struggled with my curveball, the more I was told to continue throwing fastballs. They said to just trust my fastball, but the more I threw it, the more I got hit. What happened is my lack of command got exposed. I threw enough strikes, but at this level it’s about command and I never had great command of my fastball. I’d always kind of relied on keeping hitters guessing. When I first came up in the minor leagues I was called a 90-mph thumber because I liked to mix it up. Losing that really left me lost.”
Losses followed. Hitters punished Parra, who saw his WHIP balloon to 1.83 in 2009. It was only marginally better in 2010 and 2011. His relationship with his breaking pitch was in serious need of counseling.
“There’s nothing mechanical that’s not also mental,” agreed Parra. “Every move you make starts with your image of it. To me, the two go hand in hand. I feel like I tried everything. A lot of people tried to help me and I worked my butt off to figure it out, but the more I tried the worse it got. Basically, I lost the identity of how I even used to throw.”
Upon divorcing the Brewers, Parra met someone who helped him find a new identity. The result was a parting of ways with his curveball.
“Last year, at the end of spring training, Bryan [Price] and I were talking,” said Parra. “He said he noticed that I accelerate my arm really well, but didn’t really do a whole lot of the manipulation with my curveball. A lot of guys will really try to get around the ball, but when I did that I would get messed up. He wanted me to stay behind the ball and throw a slider, which is mostly like a fastball, only you kind of just throw the outside of it.”
Prior to Price’s intervention, Parra flirted with a pitch similar to a slider. He took a liking to it, but it wasn’t a match made in heaven in the eyes of his old club.
“I started throwing a cutter, but that got axed pretty quick,” explained Parra. “Not by me, but by outside influences. In 2009, I was facing the Pirates and gave up a double on a cutter. I was told not to throw it again.”
Five years later, he’s thriving with the cutter’s cousin. The southpaw is quite fond of his new pitch – he’s throwing it over 40 percent of the time – but memories die hard.
“What’s funny is that my slider looks like a curveball once in awhile, depending on how I release it,” said Parra. “There are times I’ll go. ‘Man, that’s like my old curveball.’ I still have a slider mentality, though.”
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