Author Archive

The Manager’s Perspective: John Gibbons on His Long, Crazy Career

John Gibbons is in his second go-round as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The 56-year-old former catcher skippered the A.L. East team from 2004 to -08, and he’s been back at the helm since the beginning of the 2013 season. There have been a pair of postseason berths along the way — in 2015 and 2016 — and he heads into the waning days of the current campaign with a managerial record, exclusively with Toronto, of 789 wins and 782 losses.

It’s no secret that this will be his last year on the job. While nothing has been made official, the Blue Jays are expected to replace Gibbons once the season concludes. He won’t be fading into the sunset, though — at least not right away. Gibbons hopes to stay in the game, in one capacity or another, for the foreseeable future. As for his pair of tenures in Toronto, and the roads he traveled to get there… it’s safe to say that he’s enjoyed the ride.

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John Gibbons: “In 1990, I was in Triple-A with the Phillies and kind of at the end of my rope as a player. Being a catcher with a little big-league experience, you can always find a job, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. My original organization, the New York Mets, called. They wanted to know if I was interested in being their roving catching instructor. I debated whether I wanted to keep playing a little longer or get into coaching. I decided to go into coaching.

“After I roved for a couple of years, the Mets gave me a managing opportunity in Kingsport, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League. That was actually the first league I’d played in, back in the day. Things just kind of took off from there.

“I ended up with the Toronto Blue Jays when J.P. Ricciardi was hired as the general manager. I was originally in the bullpen, but then they made a couple of changes and I was the first-base coach. A few years later they made more changes, and I was the manager. So it’s been a long, crazy career. It wasn’t a very good one as a player, and from there it’s been what it’s been.

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Jerry Blevins, Taylor Guerrieri, and Lance McCullers Jr. on Developing Their Curveballs

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Jerry Blevins, Taylor Guerrieri, and Lance McCullers Jr. — on how they learned and/or developed their curveballs.

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Jerry Blevins, Mets

“The story starts as a kid. You start learning about curveballs, and the reason mine is big and slow is because I wanted to visualize it. A lot of those smaller breaking balls you don’t really see from the perspective of a pitcher. I wanted to see the big break. That’s why mine is how it is.

“Did anyone ever try to change that? All the time. Every step of the way, coming through the minor leagues. Even in high school and little league. They were always telling me, ‘Look, you need something tighter.’ I always fought against that, and I think it’s done me well.

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How Culberson Became “Charlie Clutch” in Atlanta

Charlie Culberson isn’t enamored of the nickname he’s picked up this season. Complimentary as it may be, it’s a bit much for a humble utility player from Calhoun, Georgia — especially one who knows that the idea of “clutch” has largely been debunked. Which isn’t to say he’s been irrationally dubbed.

His overall numbers this year are solid, but they’re nothing to write home about. In 287 plate appearances, Culberson is slashing .280/.330/.494. It’s his flair for heroics that has led to the sobriquet “Charlie Clutch.”

“I had the couple of walk-off homers back in May and June, and people just kind of ran with that,” explained Culberson, who is in his first season with the Atlanta Braves. “It sounds good — it works well with the two Cs — but it’s not something I would give myself. I think you’re going to come off as a little conceited if you put ‘clutch’ next to your name. And if you think about it, it’s kind of a pressure thing. ‘Clutch’ is a pretty strong word, especially in sports.”

I pointed out to Culberson that the walk-off bombs aren’t the only impactful hits he’s had this season. In 71 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he’s slashed a healthy .375/.437/.641. With two outs and runners in scoring position, those numbers — in a small sample size of 32 chances — are a stupendous .464/.559/.786.

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Sunday Notes: Trevor Story Hovers, Then Explodes

Trevor Story has always been a good hitter. He’s never been as good of a hitter as he is now. In his third big-league season, the 25-year-old Colorado Rockies basher is slashing .291/.346/.555 with 40 doubles, five triples, and 33 home runs. In short, he’s been a beast.

According to Story, he hasn’t changed all that much mechanically since the Rockies took him 45th overall in the 2011 draft out of an Irving, Texas high school. But he has changed a little.

“I think you’d see something very similar (if you compared then to now), but there are some differences,” Story told me earlier this summer. “I had more of a leg kick when I was younger, and I was kind of bouncing my hands instead of resting them on my shoulder. Outside of that, my movements are basically the same.”

Story felt that having a higher kick resulted in him getting beat by fastballs from pitchers with plus velocity, and as he “didn’t really need a leg kick to hit the ball far,” he changed to what he considers “more of a lift than a kick now; it’s almost more of a hover.”

Leg kicks — ditto lifts and hovers — are timing mechanisms, and as not all pitchers are the same, nor is Story always the same. The differences are subtle, but they’re definitely there. Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: A.J. Hinch on Bullpens

Managing a bullpen is one of the biggest challenges a big-league skipper faces. Starters are going fewer and fewer innings, multi-inning closers have gone the way of the dinosaur, and roles have begun to blur. Matc-ups have thus become increasingly important, and determining them isn’t as simple as scanning a stat sheet. This isn’t Strat-O-Matic, it’s real life, and workloads and psyches need to be factored into the equation.

A.J. Hinch has done a good job with this balancing act. Having quality arms at one’s disposal obviously helps — and the Astros clearly have some quality arms — but optimizing their usage is nonetheless an art form. The numbers suggest that Hinch is more of a Rembrandt van Rijn than a Jackson Pollock (no disrespect to the latter, the reference is to technical proficiency). Houston relievers have both the best ERA and best FIP of any team in the majors, while their walk and strikeout rates are things of beauty. By and large, Hinch knows which buttons to push… and when to push them.

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A.J. Hinch: “It’s definitely changed from my playing days to now. We’ve been softly eliminating perfect roles. I think there will always be a closer. There will always be setup guys. There will always be guys who are long men or lefty specialists. I’m not taking about those roles. It’s more that I’ve watched the game evolve to the point where managers are using their relievers creatively.

“There’s how Terry Francona used Andrew Miller a couple of years ago. There’s how we used the bullpen in the playoffs last year. Closers are being used on the road more often. Lefties are getting righties out if the numbers suggest you don’t have to play a perfect matchup. I think the creativity within organizations has grown, and that’s impacted the manager role, how we utilize our weapons.

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Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, and Charlie Morton on Developing Their Fastballs

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, and Charlie Morton — on how they learned and/or developed their go-to fastballs.

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Gerrit Cole, Astros

“It’s all about the fastball. From a young age, I’ve thrown both the two-seam and the four-seam. I just try to keep my fingers on top of the ball and get after it, man. It’s pretty simple.

“You try to locate it the best you can, knowing that overcooking the pitch — whether that’s overthrowing it or overthinking it — can cause you to maybe leak the ball over the plate or simply lose some of the quality of the pitch. You try to be as relaxed as you can, and have the most-connected delivery that you can. You keep your fingers on top of the ball, spin it, and take it right through the glove. Don’t try to do too much. Just let it eat.

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A Conversation with Oakland Assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz

The small-market Oakland A’s are outperforming expectations — they have a habit of doing this — and, as always, their front office deserves plaudits. Billy Beane famously fronts the group, with David Forst acting as his right-hand man in the general manager’s chair. And then there’s Dan Kantrovitz, whose primary duties are encapsulated with this line in the team’s media guide:

[Kantrovitz] is involved in all aspects of the A’s baseball operations department with a primary focus on overseeing statistical analysis for evaluating and targeting players in the amateur draft, free agent and trade markets.

Currently in his fourth season as Oakland’s assistant GM, Kantrovitz has both the background and the expertise to thrive in his role. The possessor of a master’s degree in statistics from Harvard, he’s served in multiple capacities within professional baseball, including a three-year stint as the director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals. This is Kantrovitz’s second go-round with his current club, as he previously worked in the Oakland front office from 2009 to -11.

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Kantrovitz on the A’s outperforming expectations this season: “With three weeks left, a lot can happen. I wish I had a good answer to explain the team’s performance so far, but I think you’ve got to start with the guys on the field. So many of our players are having great years — and, in some cases, career years. Then you can factor in that David [Forst] and Billy [Beane] and the coaching staff have made some good decisions along the way. Maybe we have had some good fortune on top of it?  Also — and this is maybe hard to quantify — I think the effect of a guy like Jonathan Lucroy on our pitching has been significant.”

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Sunday Notes: Mike Clevinger is Channeling Trevor Bauer

Mike Clevinger has been channeling Trevor Bauer. Not just in terms of effectiveness — the long-maned righty has a 3.11 ERA and a 9.3 strikeout rate — but also with competitiveness and ingenuity. While the Cleveland Indians teammates aren’t exactly two peas in a pod, Clevinger is certainly being influenced by his mad scientist of a rotation mate.

“He’s a wealth of knowledge, and a really good resource, especially with our new cameras and stuff like that,” Clevinger said of Bauer, who uses 2,000-frames-per-second video to parse the movement and spin of pitches. “We have the same mindsets and goals on the mound. It’s never going to be a completed process. For us, it’s always going to be ‘What’s the next step? What’s the next move to get better? What’s the next level to take it to?’ Throw harder. Make it nastier.”

An 80-MPH slider is one of Clevinger’s nastiest pitches, and while Bauer didn’t play a role in its development, he has broken down its nuts and bolts. Read the rest of this entry »


Reynaldo Lopez’s Quest to Become a Smart Power Pitcher

Reynaldo Lopez remains a work in progress. The 24-year-old right-hander has been brilliant in his past two outings — allowing just a pair of runs over 14 innings — but his overall performance this season has been a mixed bag. In 28 starts for Chicago’s South Side club, Lopez has a 4.37 ERA, and he’s fanned just 6.8 batters per nine innings.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t making strides, nor does it mean that he can’t miss bats when he needs to. Acquired by the White Sox along with Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning in the December 2016 deal that sent Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals, Lopez has been removing the word “raw” from his reputation. Tutelage from a pair of baseball’s best pitching minds is a big reason why.

“I’ve matured a lot,” Lopez told me this summer via translator Billy Russo. “Four or five years ago my mindset was to throw hard and overpower the hitters. Now it’s more about location and pitch selection, and managing the game. You have to be smart in order to succeed at this level.”

The native of San Pedro de Macoris began learning that lesson upon his arrival in the nation’s capital midway through the 2016 season. His initial outings were rocky, and teammates were in his ear. Their messages were straightforward. He couldn’t just throw hard. He needed to have a plan.

His first tutorial came from one of the game’s best, and most cerebral, pitchers.

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Joey Wendle Feels the Best Swings Are Natural

Joey Wendle has been scorching the baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays infielder/outfielder is slashing .350/.405/.536 over his last 50 games, and he’s been especially torrid in his last 10. Wendle has 17 hits in his last 39 at-bats, pushing his season mark to a heady .300/.349/.429.

Pair those numbers with his defensively versatility — he’s started 10 or more games at three different positions — and the result for the 28-year-old late-bloomer is a 2.7 WAR that ranks first among AL rookies. Wendle is legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.

His offensive output is surprising, but it’s by no means shocking. Wendle batted a solid .285 with a .441 slugging percentage in 380 Triple-A games, and he more than held his own in a pair of September cameos before coming to Tampa. The Rays acquired Wendle from the Oakland A’s last winter in exchange for Jonah Heim.

His left-handed stroke has never been better, and a big reason is that he’s no longer trying to build a better mousetrap. He’s simply being himself when he steps into the box.

“Personally, I feel the best swings are natural,” Wendle told me on a recent visit to Fenway Park. “I think some of my best swings came before I had any instruction. At the same time, you can slowly build them as you progress. I’d say that my career has gone from a natural swing to a bit of a forced swing, and now to a place where I understand my natural swing better.”

I asked the former West Chester University Golden Rams standout to elaborate on “forced swing.”

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Sunday Notes: Bobby Wilson is a Soldier Who Has Seen Pitching Evolve

Bobby Wilson has caught for 16 seasons — nine of them at the big league level — so he knows pitching like the back of his hand. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball. With a .577 OPS in exactly 1,000 MLB plate appearances, the 35-year-old hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut. But his stick isn’t why the Chicago Cubs acquired him from the Minnesota Twins this past Thursday. They picked him up for his receiving skills and his ability to work with a staff.

The quality and style of pitching he’s seeing today aren’t the same as what they were when he inked his first professional contract in 2002.

“The game is ever evolving, ever changing,” Wilson told me a few weeks ago. “I’ve seen it go from more sinker-slider to elevated fastballs with a curveball off of that. But what really stands out is the spike in velocity. There’s almost no one in this league right now who is a comfortable at bat.”

In his opinion, increased octane has made a marked impact on how hitters are being attacked.

“If you have velocity, you can miss spots a little more frequently, whereas before you had to pitch,” opined Wilson. “You can’t miss spots throwing 88-90. If you’re 95-100 , you can miss your location and still have a chance of missing a barrel. Even without a lot of movement. Because of that, a lot of guys are going to four-seam, straight fastballs that are elevated, instead of a ball that’s sinking.”

But as the veteran catcher said, the game is ever evolving. He’s now starting to see more high heat in the nether regions of the zone, as well. Read the rest of this entry »


Learning and Developing a Pitch: Kyle Barraclough, Andrew Miller, and Dan Straily on Their Sliders

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Kyle Barraclough, Andrew Miller, and Dan Straily — on how they learned and/or developed their sliders.

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Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins

“I’ve thrown it since my sophomore year of high school. One day my coach grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, you want to throw a slider?’ He showed me a grip and was like, ‘Throw it like a fastball, and at the very end kind of just focus on staying down through your middle finger.’

“I couldn’t really throw a curveball, to be honest with you. I didn’t know much about pitching at that point — I played multiple sports until my senior year — and it just never came naturally to me. The slider kind of popped up out of nowhere. It was basically, ‘Let the grip do what it’s going to do,’ and that worked for me.

“When I got to college — I don’t know if it was from trying to be too fine with it, or from not being as aggressive through the ball — but it kind of got a little loopier. Then I got to pro ball and it kind of stayed that way.

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Tyler Glasnow (and Pitching Coach Kyle Snyder) on Making Strides

As noted by FanGraphs author Jeff Sullivan earlier this month, Tyler Glasnow has become a different and better pitcher. Being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Tampa Bay Rays is playing a part in that, but there’s more to his step forward than a simple change of scenery. The 25-year-old right-hander had already begun evolving.

Glasnow added a slider to his repertoire this year, giving him a third pitch to go with his high-octane heater and a curveball that has always flashed plus. He’s also started to elevate more fastballs, allowing him to take advantage of his velocity and above-average spin rate. Perhaps most importantly, he’s been getting his mechanics in order. Inconsistency has long been a bugaboo, with Glasnow’s 6-foot-8 frame getting much of the blame whenever he’s gotten out of whack with his delivery.

He’s back to a starting role now. The Pirates put him in the bullpen this spring, and he remained there until Tampa Bay finally pulled the trigger on an anticipated Chris Archer deal, acquiring Glasnow along with Austin Meadows and Shane Baz. The Rays promptly placed the high-ceiling hurler in their rotation, where they hope he remains for years to come.

Glasnow talked about the strides he’s made, particularly in terms of his repertoire and delivery, prior to a recent game. Also weighing in on the right-hander’s continued development is Tampa Bay pitching coach Kyle Snyder.

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Glasnow on his two breaking balls: “They’re different grips, and the intent is different. Early in the count, I’m more of a curveball guy, while the slider is more of a put-away pitch. I would say my slider is the better of the two, but it’s easier for me to throw my curveball for strikes. I grip my slider like a traditional slider. My curveball is a pitch I release with the seams a little more parallel to my fingers.

Tyler Glasnow’s slider grip.

“The break is similar, they’re both 12-6, so I think it’s maybe hard for PITCHf/x, or whichever technology is being used, to [classify them]. In terms of usage, I’ve been throwing them pretty evenly. The curveball is a little slower and kind of just drops in the zone. The slider bites a little sharper. It comes in off a straighter plane, then breaks down.

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Sunday Notes: Calling Games For The Rays is Rarely Boring

It’s safe to say that the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t following a paint-by-numbers script. Casting convention to the wind, they employ “an opener,” they station their relievers on corners, they… do just about anything to gain a potential edge. As a small-market team in the A.L. East, they need to be creative in order to compete. It makes sense.

But not to everybody, and that includes a fair share of their fanbase. And even if it does make sense to the fanbase — sorta, kinda, at least — that wasn’t always the case. They had to be brought up to speed on the methods behind the madness, and that job fell squarely on the shoulders of the people who report on, and broadcast, the games.

Andy Freed and Dave Wills — the radio voices of Rays baseball — were front and center. According to the latter, they at least had a head start.

“We were trained a little bit by Joe Maddon,” said Wills, who along with Freed has called games in Tampa since 2005. “Joe was kind of the leader with doing different things, such as shifts and putting four men in the outfield. He’d set lineups differently than other people. So when it comes to what they’re doing now, we’re already in grad school. We’ve seen it, we’ve been there, we’ve done that.”

Which doesn’t mean advance warning from Kevin Cash wasn’t appreciated when the team introduced the “opener” concept. Wills may have an advanced degree in understanding-out-of-the-box, but what the Rays manager told him and his broadcast partner was straight out of left field. Read the rest of this entry »


Tigers Prospect Brock Deatherage on Coming Alive After the Game Beat Him Up

This past weekend’s Sunday Notes column included a section on Brock Deatherage, a self-described “country boy from North Carolina” who aspires to be a farmer after his playing days are over. As promised within those paragraphs, we’ll now hear much more from the 22-year-old Detroit Tigers outfield prospect. More specifically, we’ll learn the reasons behind his poor junior season at North Carolina State and how that experience made him a better player today.

Deatherage is thriving in his first taste of professional baseball. In 231 plate appearances between the GCL, West Michigan, and (most recently) Lakeland, the left-handed-hitting speed burner is slashing .329/.383/.512 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases. He’s doing so after being selected by Detroit in the 10th round of this year’s June draft, one year after choosing to return to school rather than sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Deatherage discussed his tumultuous penultimate collegiate campaign, and how he subsequently turned things around, prior to a recent game.

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Brock Deatherage: “I had a pretty tough junior year. I started the season really well — I was hitting .400-plus — but then I kind of ran into a little wall. I was having some good at-bats, a lot of hard contact, but balls weren’t falling. From there, the mental side of the game kind of took over. I obviously knew it was my draft year, and I was projected to go pretty high, so I started to press at the plate. A lot of those little mental things started piling on, piling on.

“Then I started to make physical adjustments. I tried everything. I widened out. I shortened up. I stood up taller. I leg-kicked. I started open and strided in. I started with my hands a little bit lower, a little higher. I was trying everything to get out of that funk, but you can’t go in there and hit one way and then show up the next day and hit another way. Basically, I was trying to figure out what worked for me rather than sticking with what got me there and just working through it. I kept making all of these changes and adjustments, and it obviously didn’t work.

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Cody Allen on Rotating His Spike

Cody Allen throws a lot of curveballs. As a matter of fact, the Cleveland closer has thrown the second-highest percentage (38.9%) of curveballs among qualified relievers since the start of the 2014 season. It’s hard to argue with success. Allen’s signature pitch has helped him amass 147 saves, the most in Indians history.

His grip, while not uncommon, isn’t entirely traditional, either. The 29-year-old right-hander throws a spiked curveball, which he learned and developed through the insistence of someone whose advice he’s always taken to heart. It was career-altering advice. Were it not for the pitch, Allen’s day-to-day experiences with rotation would be markedly different than they are on a mound.

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Cody Allen: “My freshman year of college, I was pretty much just a fastball-slider guy. My slider was OK. I have a twin brother, Chad, who pitched at the University of West Florida, and he had a really good breaking ball. He spiked his. He would always tell me, ‘Hey, man, try spiking it.’ I did, but I had no feel for it. It had good spin and was doing the things I wanted it to, but I felt there was no way I could throw it for a strike.

“When I was coming back from Tommy John surgery the next year, I had an extended throwing program. That gave me a window to see if I could maybe iron this pitch out. So the fall of 2009, and the spring of 2010, is when I really stuck with it. I kept throwing it, and it got better and better.

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Orioles Pitching Prospect Zac Lowther Has Vexing Funk

Zac Lowther has been deceptively good. In 20 starts this season between Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick, the 22-year-old southpaw boasts a 2.11 ERA and has punched out 134 while allowing just 76 hits in 106.2 innings. He came into the campaign No. 10 on our Orioles top-prospect list — no other publication had him ranked higher — and his propensity to miss barrels is due in large part to his delivery. Eric Longenhagen described the 6-foot-2, 235-pound hurler as “a low-slot lefty with vexing funk.”

Lowther has heard similar things from opposing hitters.

“I don’t have overwhelming velocity, but guys tell me the ball kind of jumps out of my hand,” related Lowther, whom the Orioles drafted 74th overall last summer out of Xavier University. They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you do,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I just throw the ball as well as I can.’ It’s not something I actively think about. It’s more of them telling me I’m deceptive, as opposed to me figuring it out.”

Which doesn’t mean that he hasn’t figured out. Pitchers almost always understand what makes them effective, so Lowther knows as well as anyone why he induces a lot of uncomfortable swings.

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Sunday Notes: Older and Wiser, Clay Buchholz is Excelling in Arizona

Clay Buchholz has been rejuvenated in Arizona. Signed off the scrap heap in early May — the Royals had released him — the 34-year-old righty is 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 starts since joining the Diamondbacks. He twirled a complete-game gem on Thursday, holding the Padres to a lone run.

Health had been holding him back. Buchholz has battled numerous injury bugs over his career, particularly in recent seasons. Cast aside by the Red Sox after a tumultuous 2016 — a 4.78 ERA and a six-week banishment to the bullpen — he made just two appearances for the Phillies last year before landing on the disabled list and staying there for the duration. Frustration was clearly at the fore.

Truth be told, he’d rarely been his old self since a sparkling 2013 that saw him go 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA — and even that season was interrupted by injury. Given his travails, one couldn’t have blamed him had he thrown up his hands and walked away from the game.

That wasn’t in his DNA.

“No, this is what I do,” Buchholz told me earlier this summer. “I wasn’t ready to give it up. And while this offseason I told myself I wasn’t going to go through the whole minor league deal again, I swallowed my pride and did that for a little bit. It was for the best, because it helped me get to where I’m at now. It feels good to be able to go out there and throw without anything going on, mentally or physically.”

Buchholz made five starts in the minors before being called up, and he did so with a glass-is-half-full attitude. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 21

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the twenty-first installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Patrick Corbin, Zach Eflin, and Sonny Gray — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Patrick Corbin (D-backs) on His Slider

“My slider. When I was really young, I asked my father how to throw a breaking ball, and he showed me this grip. It’s something I’ve stuck with throughout the minor leagues and the big leagues. It’s been my best pitch, and it’s kind of neat that my father showed me the grip.

“I can’t remember exactly when it was, but probably around 10 years old, maybe the first couple of times I played catch with my father. He always used to say he loved throwing it at the left-handed batter’s hip and having him freeze, only to have the ball break over the plate. That’s something I’ve always remembered and taken with me.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Lance Parrish on Embracing Opportunities

Lance Parrish embraces the opportunity to help young players chase their dreams, and he’s doing so in the organization where he made six of his eight All-Star appearances. The 62-year-old former catcher manages the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Low-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Parrish broke into the big leagues with Detroit — the Motown home of Aretha Franklin — and went on to play for 19 seasons.

Parrish joined the coaching ranks shortly after hanging up his shinguards, and he became a minor-league manager soon thereafter. As fate would have it, he later found himself on the outside looking in, wondering if he’d ever get back in the game. He was skeptical that would happen, but then the Tigers came calling. He couldn’t be happier.

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Lance Parrish: “When it was getting toward the end of my playing career, Sparky Anderson told me that if I had the desire to stay in the game, his recommendation was to go right into it as soon as my playing days were over. I think he was trying to give me a heads up that it’s not that easy to stay out for any length of time and then get back in whenever you feel like you want to get back in. He said, ‘If I were you, I’d jump right into it and see if it’s something you want to do.’ I took his advice.

“At first, I kind of moonlighted as a minor-league catching instructor with the Kansas City Royals, when Bob Boone was their manager. That was in 1996. Then I went to the Dodgers. In 1997 and 1998 I coached in San Antonio, Texas, in Double-A. My first year there, Ron Roenicke was managing and we won the Texas League. That got me off on the right foot, and I learned a lot from watching Ron manage. Ron is very astute when it comes to details. I learned about managerial style, how to relate to players, structure — he’s a very structured guy — things to work on throughout the course of a baseball season.

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