When I talked to Michael Roth, he said he wasn’t too familiar with Eric Stults. I suggested maybe he should be. Stults, a savvy southpaw for the San Diego Padres, mixed and matched his way to 11 wins and a 3.93 ERA last year. Roth has a similar skill set and could one day have the same kind of success.
Roth doesn’t overpower hitters. What he does is possess enough moxie to have reached the big leagues less than a year after the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim took him in the ninth round of the 2012 draft. A 24-year-old graduate of the University of South Carolina, Roth made 15 appearances out of the Angels bullpen. He went 1-1 with a 7.20 ERA in 20 innings.
There is no questioning Roth’s intelligence, on or off the field. Despite his lack of pure stuff, he helped pitch the Gamecocks to consecutive College World Series championships. In the classroom he earned a degree in international business.
Roth on getting called up last season: “I don’t think that’s what they had planned for me. I wasn’t even in big league camp during the spring. I suppose it was a number of factors, from throwing the ball pretty well to my past experiences. They knew I’d pitched in front of some big crowds and wouldn’t be intimidated by being thrown into the fire.
“It felt awesome to be in the big leagues. I didn’t execute as well as I could have, or should have, but was I a little bit nervous? Yeah, I was kind of nervous walking into the clubhouse. I didn’t know any of those guys. When I first walked in, it was Trout, Trumbo and Iannetta sitting on the couch. They’d never seen me before. I had to break myself into the team and that was probably more nerve-wracking than throwing a baseball against, say, Adrian Beltre.”
On his approach: “I’m not going to go out there and try to make a pitch I can’t. Or say a certain guy is weak on curveballs — that doesn’t mean I’m going to break off four curveballs in one at bat. I’m going to stick to my strengths, which are locating the ball down, throwing a sinker and changeup, and knowing how to pitch inside.
“I won’t overpower hitters with my stuff. I’m going to execute pitches. When I don’t execute, I‘m going to get hit. When I do, I‘m going to get outs. Maybe that’s a good thing about being left-handed. I can throw 88 and it’s good enough.”
On scouting reports: “When we were going over scouting reports, I was trying to find out what guy’s tendencies are as far as first-pitch swinging and at what point they’re going to ambush a pitch. Is it mostly with men on base? Also, where are their holes, in? Some guys don’t like it up and in. Others don’t like it in down by the knees. Basically, where is the hole in their swing on inside pitches?
“One guy for the Mariners — they said if you’re going to throw him a breaking ball with two strikes, bounce it. Don’t actually throw it down in the zone, throw it in the dirt. Our starting pitcher that day didn’t follow the advice and the guy hit a home run on a slider down. You need to pick up on those kinds of eye-catching tendencies some hitters have.”
On working out of the bullpen: “It wasn’t hard, it was just different. To me, pitching is pitching whether it’s in relief or as a starter. The main thing is your routine. When you’re a starter you’re very routine-oriented because you’re out there every five days and have the stuff you do in between. As a reliever, I was one our last guys out of the pen so I didn’t know how much I’d be throwing. I had to figure out when I needed to do side work and how much throwing to do before the game. It was learning what I needed to do to be prepared for a given night.
“Early on, I struggled a little bit. Some guys helped me out. Garrett [Richards] talked to me a lot. [Scott] Downs was also great. The last month I was up there, I really figured out how to get loose in about 12 pitches. As long as I was moving around in between innings, I could jump back up and start throwing the ball and be loose in a hurry.
“I’ve talked to [assistant GM] Scott Servais a little and have told them I believe I can be a starter in the big leagues. I think they see that as a possibility as well. I also know we want to win this year.”
On his fastball and changeup: “I throw both a two- and a four-seam [fastball]. My velo was all over the map last year with all the up, down, getting extended to a starter, going back to relief. In spring training I think I was pretty much 88-92 [mph]. By the end of the year I was 84-87.
“My changeup is my go-to. I trust it a lot. It’s just one of those pitches I feel is always there, If I’m down in the count I can always throw it to get back in the count. It’s kind of evolved. Basically, it’s a four-seam grip, but I drop the thumb under. It’s almost like my thumb is on the same spot it would be if I were throwing a fastball. That’s why I get good spin on the baseball — I don’t circle it up. So it’s like a circle, but with my thumb on the bottom and not the side.
“I’ve always thrown a pretty good changeup. When I was younger I used to throw a circle. My pinky would be more on the top and my changeup kind of tumbled out of my hand. It was a good pitch, and really slow, but hitters could see the tumble early on so it wasn‘t as much a swing-and-miss pitch. Then I kind of dropped my pinky on the side and got better spin. I still didn’t really like the way it looked. Then I dropped my thumb underneath with the fingers on the side. It came out with four-seam fastball spin, which is what I was after.
“The movement is pretty similar to my four-seam, only slower. I’m not sure, but it’s probably 78-80. It’s just a few ticks off. It’s not like a Mike Morin changeup, where it’s 20 mph slower. It’s more in the 6-10 range. Ideally, I think most guys want a difference of about 10 mph, but for me, as long as it’s just enough off, I’m fine. If I’m locating well it’s not going to get hit too hard. If it’s up — if it’s six inches above the knees — it’s probably going to get smoked. At the knees or lower it’s probably going to be a roll-over.”
On arm angles and the rest of his repertoire: “I throw kind of a slider-cutter type deal. Early in the year I was throwing a cutter and a slider. I’ve kind of banged the cutter. But what I call my slider, some people are calling a cutter. I messed with the grip a little last year and usually just try to throw the hell out of it.
“I had a Bloomberg account and they were reading the differences between my cutter and slider. My first couple weeks in the big leagues I was throwing my two-seamers 88-90, my cutters around 88, and my four-seamers 91-92. My slider would be 83-85. It’s a shorter slider.
“I’ll drop down and throw a sidearm breaking ball as well. That’s a lot slower than my over-the-top slider. I’m also working on a curveball over the top, although haven’t thrown it too much. Right now it’s a pitch I’m just trying to drop in to steal a strike.
“I’ll throw a fastball, changeup and curveball from down low. Being able to throw all three from different angles gives hitters something to think about.
“I was actually recruited to be a first baseman at South Carolina. I started pitching out of necessity, basically so I could get on the field. That’s because I sucked. When I was turning double plays at first base, the pitching coach saw that I kind of dropped down when I was throwing across the infield. I had a terrible slider at the time. We needed a lefty specialist out of the pen, so he asked me if I ever though of dropping down. I was like, ‘No, you’re crazy.’ But he asked me to drop down, so I started dropping down.
“I was mostly sidearm to lefties my entire college career. When I got to minor league ball is when I started throwing both over the top and sidearm to both righties and lefties.”
On striking out four consecutive batters in his MLB debut: “Usually, I’m not going to strike out a lot of guys. If I’m throwing well, I’m normally getting about a strikeout per inning, but there are always going to be some crazy days in there. Sometimes it’s the umpire’s strike zone. Sometimes a hitter isn’t expecting something in, and you locate it really well, in. There are a number of factors that lead to strikeouts. I’m not going to blow 97 past somebody. For me, it’s locating well, ideally with a pitch that has them off balance. That‘s what I need to do to be effective.”