ST. PETERSBURG -- Without much fanfare, Rich Thompson, the amiable Aussie, has become one of the Angels' most dependable and effective relief pitchers.
A man who has spent all or almost all of nine seasons toiling in the Minor Leagues, Thompson has rediscovered his early mindset while incorporating a cut fastball into his repertoire, which has made a difference in taking hitters off his 92-95 mph heater.
In 15 appearances covering a total of 23 innings over the past two seasons, the 26-year-old Sydney resident has allowed three earned runs and 18 baserunners while striking out 16 hitters. He delivered 3 1/3 innings, giving up a solo homer, in his lone appearance this season on Sunday in Kansas City.
"Rich has come light years from where he was a couple years ago," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He needed to redefine some things. Getting back in counts is tough in the Major Leagues. He didn't have the repertoire to get back in counts. He's doing that now. He's definitely a guy who can pitch later in the game."
Thompson recalls a conversation with former teammate Chone Figgins a few years ago that made an impression.
"Figgy told me, 'Every fastball you throw is the same speed -- you need to take a little off sometimes,'" Thompson recalled. "I've never been a finesse guy. I worked on the cutter, and it has given me what Figgy said I needed, something to get hitters off the fastball.
"I feel like I had to learn the game all over when I got to the Major Leagues. I've always been a guy who challenged hitters in the Minor Leagues; I'm back to being myself. I've never had a feel for the sinker, but that cutter has given a different look for hitters."
Whatever the causes, the effect has been remarkable. After knocking him around for .345, .400 and .329 averages in his first three brief Major League seasons, hitters were held to a combined .171 average last year, and the Royals batted .167 against Thompson in Kansas City.