GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cody Anderson has heard for several years that he needs to develop a reliable curveball if he plans on sticking as a starting pitcher. In the Minors, he would sometimes flip one breaking ball over just to appease the evaluators monitoring his outings.
During a bullpen session while at Double-A Akron last season, Anderson decided enough was enough. He threw a pile of curveballs, testing out every grip imaginable. The big right-hander tried a four-seam curve. He tossed a two-seam curve. He altered the grips on both styles and threw and threw. He changed his arm angle. He changed it again. Nothing felt right.
"It's the most frustrating thing ever," Anderson said. "For four years, I've been working on a curveball."
In that mentally exhausting mound workout last year, Anderson also tried a spike curve, which involves bending the index finger with the fingernail digging into the seams. It is a difficult pitch to control, but Anderson liked how it felt out of his hand. The middle finger rests on the ball, serving as the stabilizer for commanding the challenging pitch.
Anderson threw it repeatedly. While he was not able to send the pitch where he wanted in that first test run, Anderson liked how it felt tumbling off his fingers. It stayed straighter out of his hand, rather than popping up before breaking down. If he could harness the pitch, it could be sharper and more effective down in the strike zone.
"I tried everything," said Anderson, who is competing against Josh Tomlin for the lone vacancy in the rotation. "I tried to figure out one that worked. I tried the spike and it felt great, but it was hard to control, because I had never thrown one with just one finger on the ball."
Cody Anderson tried every grip in book for his curve in Minors with little success. Settled on spike CB last year. pic.twitter.com/HOvslnJuc3
Cleveland's insistence on Anderson developing a curve is based on the fact that he only had two Major League pitches. Anderson throws a fastball, which has grown in velocity this spring, and an above-average changeup, which is his primary strikeout pitch. Anderson also has added a cut fastball, but having a slower, more effective breaking ball is pivotal for him surviving in the big leagues.
"Having three solid pitches as a starter, it's necessary," manager Terry Francona said. "Good hitters, if they can, they'll eliminate a pitch. That makes it really hard."
Helping Anderson is the fact that closer Cody Allen throws the same pitch.
In search of a solid curve while pitching at St. Pete Junior College in 2010, Allen's twin brother, Chad, suggested the spike curve. Chad threw that pitch during his days as a player with University of West Florida and showed Cody the grip.
While it took time, Allen's curveball developed into one of baseball's best pitches. Over the past two years, hitters have managed a .122 average (22-for-180) with no home runs and a .144 slugging percentage off his spike curve, according to Fangraphs.com. Allen has talked to Anderson about the pitch and has stressed patience.
"When you first start throwing it, it can be kind of uncomfortable," Allen said. "It's going to eventually feel good coming out of his hand. The only advice I've had for him was just, 'If it's got good spin, if it's got good bite, stick with it. You'll get there.' And he has. It's becoming a pretty good pitch for him."
This spring, Anderson estimated that he has averaged 10-15 curveballs per outing. Catcher Yan Gomes keeps calling for it and, rather than curse under his breath upon seeing the sign as was the case so often last summer, the young pitcher has started to fire the pitch with more conviction.
Gomes said that is the most important element to Anderson's development with the curve.
"As much confidence as I have in the pitch," Gomes said, "it comes down to having him throwing it with confidence. I can trust the pitch and believe in what it's going to do, but if he doesn't have conviction to throw it, we're back to square zero. I think it's going to be a big pitch for him."
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway agreed.
"I always thought he could spin it pretty good," Callaway said. "But now it's a pitch that doesn't pop out of his hands. It's more of a power curveball that he's getting a pretty good feel for. It's definitely gotten better and better as the arm speed has gotten better."