Bannister aims to slide into rotation

Bannister aims to slide into rotation

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A pitch right-hander Brian Bannister wanted to introduce during the World Series makes its first appearance in a game situation on March 1 in the Royals' Cactus League opener against the Angels.

It's a two-seam fastball, a pitch the 25-year-old developed during his month-long stint in the Mexican League last October while the New York Mets competed in the National League Division and Championship Series.

"All I worked on when I was in Mexico was the two-seamer," said Bannister, who is scheduled to pitch two innings against the Angels in Tempe. "It's going to be a great pitch for me."

And so, armed with a new pitch as he enters a new league with a new team, the son of 15-year MLB pitcher and former Royals starter Floyd Bannister has his sights on securing a spot in the Royals' Opening Day starting rotation.

The first step in the journey occurred last December, when he was acquired from the Mets for reliever Ambiorix Burgos. The next several steps will be taken over the next month as club officials, including manager Buddy Bell and pitching coach Bob McClure, decide which of the 31 pitchers currently at Spring Training will break camp.

"I don't know much about him, only what I have heard," Bell said. "I prefer to make my own judgment, but what I've heard is he's a kid with tremendous makeup and understands how to pitch, which is understandable being the son of a real, real good Major League pitcher in Floyd.

"He walks around like a big-leaguer," Bell added. "There's a presence about him and I'm anxious to see him pitch in games that matter, which, for him, is in Spring Training. He's a solid candidate to be in our rotation."

The rotation is expected to include right-handers Gil Meche and Luke Hudson and left-handers Odalis Perez and Jorge De La Rosa. That leaves one spot open and Bannister wants it.

"He comes from a good baseball background," McClure said of Bannister. "I just think that guys who know the game and were taught it at a young age will always have an advantage. Their learning curve is quicker because they understand how it's supposed to work."

Selected by the Mets in the seventh round of the First-Year Player Draft in 2003, Bannister advanced through the Minor League system, reaching the big-leagues with a solid Spring Training last year -- a 0.95 ERA in 19 innings.

After winning his first two starts, including a memorable MLB debut in which he held the Washington Nationals hitless into the sixth inning, Bannister was in a 3-3 deadlock against the San Francisco Giants on April 26 when he came to bat in the sixth inning at AT&T Park.

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He lined a Matt Morris pitch into the right-center field gap for what he thought would be a triple.

"I was running hard going into second base and [right fielder] Moises Alou still hadn't gotten to the ball," he recalled. "I looked up to pick up [third-base coach] Manny Acta and was expecting him to wave me on to third. But he held up his hands to stop me, and I kind of caught a cleat, took a funny step and sort of felt a little twinge in my [right] hamstring."

Bannister shrugged it off, remained in the game, and the next pitch was hit down the left field line.

"I got about five steps from third base and all of a sudden ... I thought I had been shot," he said. "I mean, it was just unbelievable pain. The hamstring just popped. Somehow I made it home and scored, but it was the longest 90 feet of my life."

An MRI disclosed a strained hamstring and Bannister was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

He made a rehab start with the Mets' Triple-A team on May 18, but lasted just two batters. The hamstring gave way again when he attempted to field a bunt and this time, the exam revealed a torn hammy and he was placed on the 60-day DL.

"After the way the season started off so well, it was frustrating," he said. "It took me three months and my legs got real weak. I could throw, but I couldn't do the things to train my legs."

He returned to the Mets on Aug. 24, started the next day against the Phillies and absorbed his first MLB loss. Bannister pitched in just two more games -- both in relief -- the remainder of the season and was left off the Mets' postseason roster in both the five-game Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and seven-game Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"They sent me to Culiacan, Mexico, just north of Mazatlan, and told me if anything happened, they would fly me right back," he said.

As it turned out, starter Orlando Hernandez sustained a pulled hamstring prior to Game 1 of the Division Series. But the Mets decided Bannister needed more work in Mexico and went though the first two series without him.

"I was told that there was a good chance of me coming back for the World Series," he said. "But we'll never know."

Bannister returned home with strong legs and a polished two-seam fastball that complements his "12-to-6" curveball and circle change.

"I did really well down there," he said of the Mexican League experience. "The Royals saw me and liked what they saw."

On Dec. 6, the first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, the Royals finalized their trade with the Mets and Bannister began looking ahead to his new home.

"I was excited about coming here," he said. "I still have a lot of friends living in the Kansas City area and this is a good environment."

Pressure exists everywhere in the big leagues, but nothing compares to New York.

"It was tough being the only rookie with the Mets, which I was coming out of Spring Training," he said. "There's a lot more pressure there."

Bannister said he went to the two-seam fastball because he read a scouting report on himself in a book.

"It's kind of funny," he said. "All you have to do to find a scouting report on you is go to a fantasy baseball guide at Barnes & Noble and it tells you exactly what you need to work on. Mine said: 'Throws a four-seamer without a lot of movement.'"

After picking former teammate Tom Glavine's brain and learning how Greg Maddux gets so much movement from his two-seam fastball, Bannister decided to add the pitch to his repertoire and was encouraged by the results.

Now, it's the Royals who could capitalize on that knowledge and what it brings.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.