Patience with Wall paying off for Dodgers
Right-hander hitting finally stride after years of floundering in Minors
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- To appreciate the story of the Dodgers and Josh Wall is to understand the importance of hard lessons learned.
Wall signed as a young and immature teenager, but he answered the wake-up call and grew up. The Dodgers showed patience and didn't make the same mistake they made with another former second-round Draft pick.
That would be Joel Hanrahan, who, like Wall, was a hard-throwing second-round pick. And like Hanrahan, Wall couldn't get to the big leagues as a starting pitcher.
But unlike Hanrahan -- whom the Dodgers let walk away after seven Minor League seasons without trying him as a reliever -- Wall was moved to the bullpen in 2011. Like Hanrahan, Wall took to the bullpen. Unlike Hanrahan (a two-time All-Star closer), Wall has done it with the Dodgers.
"I've heard the comparison," said Wall, now 26 and in his ninth professional season.
If this Spring Training is an indication, more comparisons to Hanrahan are on the horizon. Wall probably won't make the Opening Day roster because of the glut of veteran pitchers on the staff, but he's pitching well enough to deserve a better fate -- five games, 6 1/3 innings, one earned run, nine strikeouts, no walks.
"This is exactly what I had in mind. I'm making something of a statement, showing off the hard work of the offseason," said Wall. "Even if there was a spot open for me, I'd still have to pitch to earn it regardless. It doesn't change my mindset. I'm definitely upbeat. I invite the challenge."
It's a continuation of what Wall did last season, when his All-Star season as Triple-A Albuquerque's closer was rewarded with three promotions to the Dodgers.
"Just the taste of last year and realizing that I was very close, I got myself in the best physical condition," said Wall, who toned his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame by working with his brother Chris, who is a personal trainer, back home in Baton Rouge, La. "And I've been here since Jan. 24 to make sure I was ready if there was any chance to be on the team."
Chances are slim for Opening Day, but Wall has impressed manager Don Mattingly enough that he's definitely on the radar.
"[Wall has] been really good this spring," said Mattingly. "He's kind of made the jump. He's one of those guys that I see, once they get to the big leagues, they've [spent] the winter thinking, 'I know what it's like.'
"He's focused. He's sped up his delivery from the standpoint of managing the running game. The way he's throwing the ball, you've got to look at him. He's got power stuff."
And it plays better out of the bullpen with his personality, as Wall explains.
"The move to relief, I'm just better mentally to let it fly for an inning and be aggressive," Wall said. "Having success in that role has helped me gain confidence."
Wall's confidence wavered as his Minor League career foundered. He saw peers pass him by. Wall said he's been to the instructional league seven times, which is the kind of remedial tutoring nobody wants.
"I've always felt I wasn't taken seriously by management, and I've let that drive me," he said. "They were always expecting a lot from me and I didn't give it to them, mentally and physically. It took me longer to mature, and I've worked hard to change that."
Wall concedes that he earned a reputation as a goof. Nothing alarming off the field, but just not as serious on the field as he needed to be. Three years ago, he was demoted to low Class A, and that was the big wake-up call.
"It was either go home or man up and turn it around," Wall said. "I decided to turn it around. I've always had the same stuff. It just didn't click for me on the mound. Mostly, it was just needing to grow up, just too much playing around at the field instead of getting the work done. I was kind of a clown. I didn't take it seriously all those years. School came easy to me, I could play around all day and get away with it. It took me a while to figure out I couldn't do that here.
"De Jon [Watson, VP of Minor Leagues] and [Rafael Chaves, pitching coordinator] were always on me hard. And [instructor Glenn Dishman]. Looking back, I appreciate it. They cared. They saw something. I needed to work harder. Looking back, I could have been here two years earlier if I would have just grasped things quicker."
The move to the bullpen came after the 2010 season. Chuck Crim, now the Dodgers' bullpen coach but Wall's pitching coach at Double-A Chattanooga in '11, said Wall's repertoire was slashed from an unwieldy six pitches to just a power fastball and a dominant slider.
"Going to the bullpen gave him more of an aggressive approach, which is what we want out of that arm," said Crim. "He was using all those pitches and trying to become somebody else. He hung there and didn't give up."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.