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Corpas ditches velocity and finds success

Corpas ditches velocity and finds success

DENVER -- In 2007, Manuel Corpas' pitching appearances for the Rockies became the hottest TV show in Panama. No doubt ratings have rebounded now that Corpas has regained his effectiveness and returned to the closer job this season, after two seasons of heartache and elbow ache.

But one of his biggest fans can't be counted in the ratings. Florencia Corpas can't bear to watch her son pitch.

"That's funny," Corpas said. "They have the TV and everything in the house, but she goes into the bathroom and closes the door."

Corpas lost the closer job a month into 2008, pitched poorly and ended up having elbow surgery last season. Some appearances were painful to watch. However, after starting this season in a long-relief role and regaining both form and confidence, Corpas has converted four consecutive save chances since being restored as closer.

He admits part of his drive for his current success is he wants mom to hear cheering from behind her closed door.

"I feel confident," Corpas said. "I think this is the ninth inning and I have to finish this game for the team to win. And I want to do it for my family, and my mom. I think of them with me. It makes me work hard -- and pitch down."

In 2007, Corpas could hit 97 mph with his sinking fastball, and he coupled that with a slider. He had two devastating pitches at hard-to-hit spots on both sides of the plate. Poor mechanical habits, however, caused his pitches to elevate. He went 3-4 with a 4.52 ERA in 76 games in 2008 and 1-3, 5.88 with decreasing velocity in 2009, before a bone chip was discovered. Two surgeries, one to clean out the chip and one to clean an infection, marked the end of his season.

This spring, his form would come and go. At times, Corpas looked as if he was guiding the ball. At other times, it seemed like he was straining to regain his old velocity. Corpas also spoke openly of trying to avoid being sent to the Minor Leagues, even though he was in the third year of a four-year, $8.025 million contract with opportunities for more years and money.

Corpas said a quiet conversation with Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd calmed him.

"Before the first game in Milwaukee, Dan O'Dowd told me, 'Don't worry about your fastball and how hard you throw,' " Corpas said. "He said, 'I want you to make your pitches. Throw your sinker.' That's what I'm doing, not try to throw too hard. Maybe one day, I want to throw hard again, but I think right now I'm better. I don't care if I throw 89 or 88. My ball is moving."

After Huston Street suffered right shoulder inflammation during Spring Training, the Rockies turned to Franklin Morales, who had difficulty throwing strikes and now is on the disabled list with shoulder weakness.

The first time Corpas re-took the ninth inning was not exactly triumphant. He gave up four runs on two hits, with a walk and a wild pitch, while turning a 5-5 game against the Phillies into a 9-5 loss. Manager Jim Tracy said it had more to do with Corpas trying to throw too hard. He quickly adjusted.

"It's never about how hard Manny Corpas throws, it's about how well he locates," Tracy said. "So I don't ever want to get involved in a conversation with Manny Corpas about, 'Man, you really threw that ball, it really went hard through there. How fast was that? What was the velocity?'

"Then I believe I'm taking him away from his true strength, which is pinpoint location. He's getting back to the point to where he's a guy who remembers who he was and remembers what got him to that point."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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