Cubs observers took notice last spring when righthander Porter Hodge dropped 20 pounds from his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame.
But Hodge gained greater recognition after he struck out 141 in 109.1 innings at Low-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend with the development of a “whirly” grip on his slider.
“It clicked,” said Hodge, a 13th-round pick in 2019 out of high school in Salt Lake City who said he learned the slider grip after spending time in the Cubs’ pitch lab midway through the 2021 season.
“During spring turning it was time to get comfortable with it and tune it.”
Hodge’s improvement enhanced his chances to at least challenge for a spot in the Double-A Tennessee rotation and continue his ascent.
South Bend pitching coach Tony Cougoule was pleased that the 22-year-old Hodge took ownership of his development.
“He changed his body and is meticulous with his routine between starts,” Cougoule said. “The slider and curve have developed. He was more of a sinker guy, but we like to profile that four-seam fastball that gives that (glove-side) cut action and gets a ton of swing and miss.
“Guys aren’t used to that movement, and his velocity is up to 98 (mph). He’s very comfortable throwing in the 93-96 range, which is plus velo with the secondary offerings he has.”
Hodge credited some of his successful transformation to working out in the offseason at the Mountainwest Baseball Academy in South Jordan, Utah, where his reshaped body and mechanics synced up.
In two of his last three starts for Myrtle Beach in late July, Hodge struck out 10 in nine innings. He lowered his walk rate from 5.1 to 3.6 per nine innings at South Bend, while posting a 2.01 ERA in 40.1 innings.
“You’ve got to keep on the grind, push on the gas and not let off,” Hodge said. “I’m a big believer in arm care and eating the best you can. This is the best I’ve ever felt.”