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Embracing the switch to relief

Thomas Joyce • Correspondent • Dec 17, 2015 at 8:51 PM

Mt. Juliet native Caleb Cotham is taking on an entirely new role this season in the New York Yankees organization—serving his team in relief.

Up with the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Cotham no longer has the burden of earning his team wins and losses. Instead, he will work to preserve leads or keep his team in the ballgame.

Now 27, Cotham has been a part of the New York Yankees organization since 2009, but injuries in his first pro season and last year have stunted his development as a prospect.

Headed into this season, he had 26 AAA appearances (22 starts) under his belt but at 6-8 with an ERA over 5.00 in International League play, the Yankees decided to take a different approach this time around— trying him out in the bullpen.

“I think being a reliever is just a little different,” Cotham said of his new role. “I like pitching and it gives me the opportunity to pitch more than if I were a starter.

“You get out there a lot. If you have a bad one, you get out there quicker and hopefully have a better one.”

Since he started off this season in relief, he once again began the year in AA with Trenton in the Eastern League. But after about a month of success (25 strikeouts in 19.2 innings), the Yankees had no choice but to promote him to AAA. He closed his Trenton tenure by getting the win in his final three appearances.

In his first AAA relief outing since 2013, the Vanderbilt alum tossed three hitless frames and struck out six. No one facing him got on base. He suffered an injury in that outing that landed him on the 7-day DL. Neither Cotham nor RailRiders’ trainer Darren London disclosed the injury.

“It’s always nice to get good results,” Cotham reflected on his outing. “I’m happy with my process, the work I put in and the adjustments I’ve been making to the bullpen.”

Starters and relievers might come into the game at different times, but Cotham is starting to realize that pitching is pitching and he can take advantage of any opportunity presented to him.

“I just want to be consistent and to just allow the manager to put me out there,” he said. “I want to throw strikes and get guys out pretty quick.”

Cotham is not the only Mt. Juliet High School grad in the International League, either. His former high school and college teammate Taylor Hill is a top prospect in the Washington Nationals organization. Hill is a starting pitcher for the Syracuse Chiefs (Nationals AAA affiliate) who made his a MLB debut last season.

Part of the Mt. Juliet High School class of 2006, Cotham was a four-year letterman in baseball and a two-time captain. He was all-cistrict thrice and the District 9-AAA tournament most valuable player his senior year.

“I owe a lot to my parents,” Cotham said of his success to this point. “I talk to my brother a lot. I also owe a lot to Mt. Juliet High School, Coach (Mark) Purvis and the coaches there. They taught me how to play the game the right way. They taught me how to compete and take it to the next level.”

Baseball runs in the family for the Cothams. His younger brother Josh pitched at Lipscomb University a few years back. With Vanderbilt facing Lipscomb in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday at Vandy’s Hawkins Field, the brothers might not see eye-to-eye on their brackets.

Before this season, Cotham had a taste of bullpen action after spending much of the 2014 season rehabbing injury. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League and took full advantage of the opportunity, striking out 14 hitters in 13.1 innings.

 “It’s unique,” he said of the experience. “You basically get to face an all-star team of minor league baseball so it’s a good experience. I was fortunate to go, I’m thankful for the opportunity and I think I pitched pretty well. It was fun.”

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