Games » Tampa Bay RaysAug9
The second-best pitch in baseball
The first pitch we all learn to throw is a fastball (mainly because we don’t know how to throw anything else). If we’re lucky, and we’ve got someone to show us how, we might learn to throw a four-seamer, to grip the ball across the fat part of the seams and snap down on the release. As we’ve all heard a thousand times, the fastball is best pitch in baseball.
And then we all skip the second-best pitch in baseball and try to ruin our arms with a curve.
The change-up has never had the allure of a snapping curve. Few kids ask their dads to show them how to throw a “dead fish.” It’s not impressive, it doesn’t do much and nobody says, “Wow, did you see how slow that pitch was?” In fact, the only thing the change-up is good for is getting people out … as Rays starter James Shields demonstrated Tuesday night.
The change-up is a great pitch whenever the pitcher is in a jam. Stuck in a fastball count? 2-0? 3-1? With a beast at the plate just waiting to lean all over your heater? Throw a change-up right down the stinking middle of the plate and let the bottom fall out.
Think the hitter is going to try ambush you on a first-pitch fastball? Throw a change-up. And not only is the change a great pitch, but it makes your fastball even better. Drop a couple of change-ups low and away and then come inside with No. 1 and it looks like a rocket. The change-up doesn’t damage your arm, anyone can learn to throw one and it makes everything else you throw look better.
Because it’s the second-best pitch in baseball.
How to throw the change-up
Trust me. I’ve got a lousy arm. It’s fairly accurate from years of throwing batting practice, but there’s no velocity … and I’ve got a great change-up. OK, I had a great change-up. It went away, like all the other things you don’t use on a regular basis, but I taught myself a great change-up and you can, too.
I was working with a kid who had a natural sinker and would get batters out two times through the order but struggle the third time through the order. Like all young pitchers, he was interested in throwing a breaking pitch, but he was too young to do so without risking arm injury, so I convinced him to try a change-up.
All that summer, we would play catch and alternate pitches: first a fastball, then a change, fastball, then a change (that’s the way he would pitch, and I wanted him to get used to switching back and forth smoothly). In the process, I developed a change-up so good that the other kids thought I was throwing a breaking pitch. It would drop almost straight down as it arrived at the plate.
Here’s how you do it. There are a bunch of different grips, and you can look online for one that suits you. What they all have in common is the ball is buried back in your palm. (A fastball is out on the fingertips.) I used the circle change (make an “OK” sign and put the ball in the palm and leave the fingers off the ball). You also can try different seam combinations by spinning the ball around and seeing what happens when you throw the ball.
When the ball is thrown, the fingers never snap down. I’ve heard the release described as the same motion you use to pull down a window shade. Another trick is to drag the toe on your throwing-side foot. You get the same arm speed, but the toe-drag and inefficient release kill the ball’s velocity.
It may not come right away, but keep throwing and it will. And you will have mastered the second-best pitch in baseball.
(By the way, do you know where that young pitcher is today? Thanks to me, I think he’s an accountant.)
It could have been worse
First baseman Eric Hosmer saved at least a run and maybe two with yet another great scoop in the first inning. With the Rays’ Evan Longoria on first and nobody out, Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist laid down a sacrifice bunt. Royals starter Jeff Francis picked it up and fired to first, burying the throw. Hos scooped it and saved at least one run.
If Eric doesn’t handle that ball, the throw goes down into the right-field corner. Longoria at least gets to third and scores on the Casey Kotchman fly ball that followed. And there’s a chance Longoria scores if Hosmer allowed the ball to get past him. Then it might’ve been Zobrist on third scoring on the Kotchman fly ball.
Last season I got in an argument with a reader (imagine that) who insisted that Ron Polk’s rating system shortchanged Billy Butler because first base wasn’t a position that could score a lot of points for outstanding defense. I responded that the first baseman handled the ball more than anyone but the catcher and a good defensive first baseman had a chance to put up points every time someone threw a ball in the dirt.
Look up Eric Hosmer’s points for outstanding defensive plays and you will see what I mean. (And about three-quarters of those 51 outstanding plays were scoops, so imagine what Hos has done to keep the infield errors down.) Eris Hosmer is worth his weight in hair product … whatever that is.
Francis after seven
I was watching the game with my son, Paul. (Get used to that. I’m going to have him take over when I have to skip a few games in September.) Paul asked me whether I thought Jeff Francis would come out and throw the eighth inning. Jeff was at 80 pitches, if I counted right (OK, if Paul counted right, I was making him do the grunt work last night).
So whoever was counting, pitch count was not a problem. I said if the Royals made a game of it in the top of the eighth, maybe manager Ned Yost would use the bullpen. If the score was unchanged, maybe Ned punts and has Francis save the pen with a complete game.
I asked Paul to look at the scorebook. Due up for the Rays: Johnson in the 9 hole (0 for 2), Jennings in the leadoff spot (1 for 2 ), Damon in the 2 hole (2 for 3), followed by Longoria (2-3 with a bomb). I thought it unlikely that Ned would give the Rays who had been killing him a fourth shot at Francis.
And that’s why you saw reliever Nate Adcock come out for bottom of the eighth. If you keep score (and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know what’s going on), keep track of lefties and switch-hitters, hits and even hard-hit outs. Once the starter is approaching 100 pitches, you often can predict just when the switch will be made.
See? I was right
Actually, it was Jason Kendall who was right. He talked to me about how important it was to win the first game of a series, both mathematically and psychologically. The Royals needed to go all out to win Monday night to set up the rest of the series. Now, the Royals win two in a row or have a bad trip to Tampa Bay. The pressure is all on them.