By: Sam Jellinek
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The start of the season was not too kind to Ben Bowden.
Bowden signed with the Phillies as a Minor League free agent this off-season
and was assigned to Lehigh Valley to begin the season. From April 1 (his first
appearance) through April 29, Bowden threw 7.1 innings and registered a ghastly
The final appearance of that stretch was a two-thirds of an
inning outing against Jacksonville where Bowden allowed three runs on three
hits and a walk. Following the outing, Bowden knew that he needed a change. The
change came in the form of a new pitch: the splitter.
“Coming out of college, it was fastball and change-up for
me,” Bowden says. “Even then, I threw about 80% fastballs, so my off-speed was
really more of a show me type of pitch. When I got in to pro ball, I realized I
needed something that was going to break more horizontally and I started
implementing a slider when I got to Double-A.”
By the time Bowden reached Triple-A, he experienced
something he’d hardly ever had to deal with before: failure. A 2nd
round pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2016 out of Vanderbilt, Bowden had
virtually dominated his whole life on the mound with just a fastball and his
change-up. Upon facing hard times at Triple-A in 2019 with Albuquerque, his
coaching staff at the time told him to lean into the slider.
“When I got to Triple-A they really hammered it in to me
that I needed to be throwing it more, so I got away from the change-up and
eventually lost command of that pitch.”
Fast-forward three years, Bowden still has his slider, but
the change-up has been hit or miss since 2019. Enter the splitter, which fit
Bowden’s mindset perfectly.
“I wanted a pitch that I could throw aggressively and not
have to manipulate. I just stick it in between my fingers and throw it as hard
as I can. It’s been up and down at times, but it’s been better than my
Bowden might be underselling himself a touch. Since
implementing the splitter, Bowden has gone 1-0 with a save, striking out 13 in
12.2 innings with a sterling 1.42 ERA. Opponents are hitting just .182 against
him during a stretch that has run from May 6 to June 2. The results have been
solid, but for Bowden the ease of the pitch is what draws him to the splitter.
“The first time I threw it in game, it was actually pretty
easy to throw because I didn’t have to think about it at all. I could just grip
it and rip it, and it was doing what I wanted. I think that was an ignorance is
bless type of deal, where I didn’t know what was going to happen with this new
Now that he’s used the splitter in game for over a month,
Bowden has become comfortable with the pitch and has progressed to the point
where he can use the pitch however he sees fit.
“Now that I’ve seen the shape of it and know what it can do,
there are even times now where I’m throwing it for more of a ball or a strike
compared to when I first started.”
For some, learning a new pitch is a daunting task that can
seem like scaling a moment. Bowden had tinkered a little bit with a splitter
before, thinking about adding the pitch to his arsenal for the past year. But
after a string of bad outings with his changeup, he finally decided to take the
dive into the unknown. Thankfully, he didn’t take that dive alone.
“Jeff Hoffman, who was with us earlier in the season, he has
a really good splitter. We were in Jacksonville when I asked him to show me how
he did it. He explained his thought process and grip and then I got on the
mound and the initial result weren’t too bad. I took it in to a game a few days
later in the Syracuse series and I got three strikeouts with it in the first
inning I used it.”
The odd thing for Bowden is that in adding a splitter, he
becomes one of a few select lefthanded pitchers who actually throws one.
Typically, lefthanders are naturally good at fading a changeup, which
discourages them to ever learn a splitter. But, on the IronPigs pitching staff,
both Bowden and Jakob Hernandez are lefties who have both added a splitter to
As long as the season continues to age and Bowden’s ERA
continues to shrink and wither away, he’ll be happy with the splitter.