Earlier this month, former St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Bob Tewksbury took us through his outings against the 1992 Chicago Cubs. He did so with the help of his old notebook, which includes scouting reports, pitch-selection data and results from specific at bats. Also on its pages are mechanical reminders and notes on adjustments he planned to make in the future.
Tewksbury, now a mental skills coach for the Red Sox, won 110 games in 13 big-league seasons. In 1992, he went 16-5, with a 2.16 ERA and finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting. His repertoire included a 47 mph curveball.
In the second installment of Tewksbury’s Notebook, he takes us through his notes on the 1992 Atlanta Braves. Tewksbury faced the National League champs twice, each time allowing a pair of runs over eight innings.
Tewksbury on Deion Sanders and working down: “Deion Sanders was really fast and liked the ball up. Top-of-the-line-up left-handed hitters with speed hit the ball that is elevated — especially up and away — so it is important to keep the ball down, especially fastballs. That’s so they can just kind of let the plane of the bat take the ball over the shortstop’s head. They’ll have a lot of hits to left field and up the middle. I wanted to stay down and make them hit the ball on the ground.
“You might say you’d want guys with that kind of speed to hit the ball in the air, but I still preferred to pitch down. That was my philosophy. These guys want the ball up, and they want off-speed, so stay hard, stay down. Let them hit it on the ground. If they hit it hard, they’re going to be out. If they hit it slow — or you’re not positioned correctly — they’re probably going to be hits, but you still have a better chance. I felt that if I elevated the ball to them, it increased the chances of them getting a hit.
“The team scouting report for Sanders was ‘Stay down; dead-high-ball hitter.’ My own report was ‘Can go down and in, fastball below the hands if set up right, change on.’ I tried to stay away from changeups against guys like that because I think it sped up their bat a little bit. Down and in with a breaking ball might be a good spot for him because, while he has that three-four hole to shoot for, he’s probably not going to do damage from a home run standpoint if you go there.
“‘Fastball below the hands if set up right.’ What I meant there is, if you go away early — show him slow, away — then you can effectively come in hard.” I didn’t write down what he did against me this game [May 8, 1992], but I did note that I only threw four changeups. Of the 72 pitches I threw, 55 were fastballs.”
On Terry Pendleton and 47 mph curveballs: “He’s a former teammate who was a very good hitter. He was a very good fastball hitter. For T.P., I wrote: ‘Sinkers down and away, straight change, fastball off plate in, possibly go slower with a curveball.’ You could get him out on his front foot on occasion, because he was a really aggressive hitter. I wanted to stay out of the middle of the plate, and up, and slower. I also didn’t want to follow any patterns with him. And I might throw a strike-curveball to him at 74 [mph], and then 68 under the zone, trying to get him to swing at it. I’d throw slow curveballs to guys who showed me I could do that.
“I threw kind of an eephus pitch. I threw 47-mph curveballs to guys like Mark McGwire. It wasn’t an eephus in the sense that it was a lob pitch; it was just a curveball grip with downward spin at a really slow speed. I’d throw it to a few hitters, just to get them off balance. No one ever really hit it, but it was a pitch kind of like Rex Hudler — I didn’t want to overexpose it. We always said that about Hud: If he played too much, he’d be overexposed.
“As for how I threw it, the finish of the pitch wasn’t as fast, but I was still able to maintain enough arm speed so that it was effective. I don’t think anyone in the league threw one as slow. It was kind of like Vincente Padilla — his were in the 50s or 60s — but mine registered on the radar gun as slow as 47.”
On Ron Gant and David Justice: “Gant was really good. He wanted the ball in, and down, and usually didn’t miss it. On anything hard in, he was turning and burning. But you could get him to swing at your pitch with two strikes. He was a guy I would start off-speed. I would change the eye level and the speed, then go away. If I got ahead — and had him looking away — I’d go in to finish him.
“Justice was another good hitter you had to really mix it up on. He’s a guy I could throw different-speed curveballs to. He was a lot like T.P. in the sense he was a hitter you couldn’t stay in the same pattern with. I was able to change speeds on him pretty well with the breaking ball.
“I didn’t always follow the team report. That was more of a starting point for me. I kept my own book, and what I found worked with Justice was ‘down and away, change, stay away.’ With any hitter, you can start away and then jam in. You just have to make sure you get it in. If you don’t, you’re in trouble.
“Looking at my notes, I gave up a solo home run to Pendleton on a pitch middle-away. T.P. liked the ball up, and I probably got the pitch up too much.”
On changeups and patterns: “‘Could throw more changeups, especially 3-2.’ I’m sure what I meant by that was they were swinging — they were aggressive — but if you look at swing percentages on 3-2 counts, I think that will indicate you can throw changeups. I bet for every 3-2 pitch Greg Maddux threw, 70 percent were changeups. The hitter is thinking fastball, so if it looks like a fastball, he’s probably going to swing at it.
“I didn’t really like throwing my changeup 3-2 because I didn’t have a lot of confidence in it. Not like Maddux did. It was a pitch I wanted to use more early in the count than late in the count. I’d rather throw a well-located fastball on 3-2 with some movement or cut.
“‘These hitters look off-speed after hard in; can repeat.’ This note was in the game nine days later [May 19, 1992], so they were probably making an adjustment. I maybe fell into a pattern of hard in, soft away. You need to be able to pick up how the hitters are adjusting to you. He who adjusts first, wins.
“I don’t think enough pitchers [go back-to-back]. Very rarely do they go back-to-back with the same pitch — in with a fastball, back-to-back; away with a fastball, back-to-back; or curveball-curveball. It always seems to be fastball-curveball or fastball-changeup. Hitters eliminate pitches. If you throw one pitch, they don’t look for it again. Back-to-back can be a very effective way to pitch, especially inside.”
On arm angles and extension: “‘Keep arm angle.’ When I first came up, I kind of threw high three-quarters, almost overhand. After shoulder surgery, I became more three-quarters. At times, I would drift back up higher. I had to remember to keep my angle. That helped my command and my movement. The surgery was a few years earlier — 1989 — but it was a constant reminder to myself. Joe Coleman was my pitching coach, and we worked on it consistently. Still, I’d sometimes get away from it.
“‘Keep arm away from body and follow through.’ If I kept it three-quarters to left knee, I could finish my pitch. If it was higher, and I was bringing it more straight down to the ground, I’d essentially cut myself off and not get the extension I wanted. ‘Follow-through should be across.’ After that extension happens, the arm, for me, went back across. When I extended it and it went more directly toward the ground, and toward home plate, I wasn’t getting the extension I needed.
“That was really helpful with my curveball, because it helped create finish. It also helped put sink on my fastball. It was all about arm path. If you go out toward the plate with your curveball, you start casting it. If you keep your elbow bent and pull down with your wrist, and bring it across, you have a better chance to get the break, and the speed, you want.”
On keeping his changeup loose: “‘Hold changeup loose.’ My pitching coach in the New York-Penn League, Q.V. Lowe, used to say to think of a changeup as trying to throw an egg without breaking it. You can’t squeeze an egg when you’re throwing it, so I kept my grip loose. That helped me maintain the arm speed I needed to have deception with the pitch.
“There are different techniques to throwing a changeup. If it’s a circle change you make the OK sign with your finger and your thumb. You can put your index finger on the outside of your thumb. You can change the seams of the ball. Anything that can get you the feel you need to keep your arm speed and sell the pitch.”
On Tom Glavine and good-hitting pitchers: “‘Glavine: approach like a hitter.’ Some of the pitchers who hit in the National League are outs. You just throw the ball over and let them put it into play. But others you have to kind of pitch like hitters. By that, I mean you ordinarily would never throw a pitcher a first-pitch curveball, but with guys in scoring position and someone like Tom Glavine up, you might throw a first-pitch breaking ball. He was a good fastball hitter, and a pretty good hitter overall. You had to be careful not to let him see the same pitch every time. I was overmatched by fastballs, but he put them in play, and put them in play pretty well. He used the opposite field a lot.
“Sid Fernandez was another pitcher who could swing the bat. Dwight Gooden could hit. Greg Maddux. Rick Sutcliffe was a good hitter. You couldn’t just throw the ball over the plate against them, because they could handle the bat.”
On the contact hitters in the Braves lineup: “They were simply a good team. They had good pitching, and if you look at that lineup, it was guys like Justice, Gant, Pendelton and Sid Bream. Jeff Blauser was a really solid player. Otis Nixon was on that team. Mark Lemke was a really tough out; he put the ball in play. Guys like Lemke were tough on me because of their style of hitting.
“I used to joke with Lee Smith. I’d be starting a game and would say to him, ‘Hey, are you ready to get the save tonight?’ He’d say, ‘Yeah. I think I can get Rafael Belliard out for you.’ I’d say, ‘Hell, I can get Rafael Belliard out. I need you get Justice or Pendleton.’ But seriously, guys like Belliard, Lemke and Blauser were tough, because I couldn’t use their aggressiveness against them, like I could with a power hitter. They put the ball in play. That’s one reason those Braves teams were good. They had guys who could beat you in different ways.”
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