"Matt Daley made a [heck] of a contribution to the club in 2009 to help it win the 92 games that it won," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "He knows how to pitch, he's a great competitor, and he pitches the rectangle as well as anybody in that clubhouse. He knows when to raise the ball up; he knows when to lower the ball, and he's very, very good at doing it."
His strong rookie season and his affinity for throwing strikes helped earn him a spot on the 2010 Opening Day roster, but he was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs six weeks later, and after a late May recall, he found himself on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation by mid-June.
"I looked at a lot of video from 2009 and a lot of video from 2010 and just kind of said, 'What's the difference? What changed?'" Daley said before a pair of split-squad games against the Cubs and White Sox on Tuesday, explaining the mechanical adjustments he's made to reclaim his form from 2009. "I basically had just gotten so far turned last year to where I was showing my [jersey] numbers to the batter. When I did that I wasn't able to be consistent in my mechanics.
2010 Spring Training - null
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
"That led to inconsistency on the mound and it led to my injury. I'm always going to be more turned than most, but what I've tried to do this year is square myself up a little bit more so all my momentum is going towards home plate. I've gone back to my mechanics coming up through the Minor League system and 2009 in the big leagues."
The adjustments are already paying off with promising results from the mound, where Daley has made three scoreless outings, but more importantly with Daley reclaiming the confidence that made him so successful when he first came up.
"You can feel it," Daley said of his fine-tuned delivery. "The ball is coming out the way it's supposed to, the way it has for me in the past. Regardless of what happens with the results, it just feels better. I feel like myself, and that's what's important."
When Daley is himself he can be invaluable out of the 'pen. In '09 he made three consecutive scoreless outings to start his big league career, and he recorded a team-best 14 2/3 scoreless innings in July, holding hitters to a .087 batting average. He averaged 9.71 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched, and he kept cruising into the postseason, holding the Phillies scoreless in his Division Series appearance.
A missing ingredient for Daley in 2010 was a couple clicks he lost on the radar gun. Daley's strength is his finesse and his fastball command, but with a decrease in velocity from low 90s to high 80s, he lost a key part of the edge that had kept hitters at bay previously.
"He is an artist. He is a strike thrower, and I like those kind of guys," Tracy said. "He unfortunately physically wasn't able to bring that extra couple miles an hour out of that bullpen [last year]. He needs that, too. To his credit, he has worked extremely hard this winter. I checked the speed gun readings yesterday and saw where he's up around 90 miles an hour, which means that his arm strength is coming back."
Daley credits his mechanical adjustments with finding that lost velocity again, but he also spent the offseason in Denver, working out every day with the team's strength coach and the athletic trainers. The results have shown up not just on the radar gun, but in the stands behind home plate, where opposing hitters are depositing his pitches after taking their best hacks at them.
"It's the difference between a foul ball and the ball being put in play," Daley said. "It's a big difference for me. I have more room for error with the extra three miles an hour."
Match his mechanical rejuvenation and the accompanying velocity bump with his two years of experience facing National League hitters, and the Rockies have a 28-year-old right-hander poised to enter the prime of his career. Daley has always brought a thoughtful, intentional approach to the mound, and his accumulation of hands-on knowledge against the West Division lineups is yet another weapon in his hands.
"I can now look at the scouting report and say, 'It's not what I've seen,' or, 'That's exactly what I've seen; that's definitely what we're doing,'" Daley said "There hasn't been a whole lot of turnover in the NL West over the last couple of years, so there's a lot of guys I know down pat. I know I've faced them five or six times, so I know exactly how I want to attack them, how they think I'm going to attack them, and I can go from there."
If he can keep on track in the Cactus League, Daley's labors should bear the fruit of a second consecutive spot on the Opening Day roster. His arm and his mind can be effective in any capacity in the 'pen, and he's got the drive to bring the Rockies back to the realm of October baseball.
"I know my situation on the team, that I have to fight for any spot that I'm going to get," Daley said. "That's kind of the way I like it. I've always been a little bit of an underdog in my career, so I relish this role, and I have a ton of confidence this year, especially with the first two outings. I just feel like everything's falling into place."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.