When I asked Amir Garrett about his slider last weekend, what I was really doing was asking about a mystery pitch. Which isn’t to say that it’s not a slider. Labelling pitches — especially breaking pitches — can be tricky. If the spin and movement suggests one thing, and the person throwing the baseball calls it something else… what is it?
First things first. Garrett came into pro ball with scant experience on the diamond. Basketball was his sport. The Cincinnati reliever did play baseball growing up, but he stopped at age 14. From there, he “literally didn’t play again until [age] 18.”
A few months after Garrett’s 19th birthday, the Reds — having seen him throw in the mid-90s during a tryout camp — selected the southpaw in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft. Shortly thereafter, they introduced him to a pitch other than a fastball. Whether or not it’s a slider is an exercise in semantics.
“I didn’t know how to pitch, so I was just flicking a ball in there,” explained Garrett. “Curveball, slider, whatever I was calling it is what it was at the time. Kind of the same now. Whatever I throw, that’s what it is. I guess it’s a slider. I don’t know.”
Lee Tunnell knows what it is. As Cincinnati’s bullpen coach, he understands the intricacies of Garrett’s go-to secondary better than anybody. Does Tunnell consider it a slider? Let’s just say I used the term when asking about the pitch, and he used the term in return. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Or that it isn’t.
“It’s not your typical slider,” Tunnell told me. “The movement profile is different. It’s different from what you’d probably see from an analytical standpoint. It’s unique. He can throw it to lots of different places and it can still be effective.”
My attempts to get him to elaborate went for naught. If I wanted to know more, I was going to have to do some homework. What I found only muddied the waters.
Garrett’s “slider” has a low spin rate [roughly 1,800 rpm] and only a modicum of horizontal break. The vertical movement is decent, but not to the point where the pitch could be categorized as a ground-ball-inducer. Velocity-wise, it’s 10 mph slower than his heater.
Did I just describe a changeup? If so, it’s a changeup with a lot of gyro spin, released first-base side with beneficial — as was described to me by an analyst — “horizontal approach angle.” Or maybe it’s simply a slider that doesn’t slide? A backup slider, or the fabled gyroball. Both can flummox. A batter will read slider spin out of the hand, and react to movement that never materializes.
All Garrett knows is that he throws it, and it works. His thought process is rudimentary: “I literally just grab it and throw it as hard as I can. Just grip and rip.”
But again, what is he gripping-and-ripping? Tunnell called it, “Not your typical slider,” and that seems reasonable enough. Personally, I like Garrett’s description better: “Whatever I throw, that’s what it is.”
Chris Davis ended his 54-at-bat hitless skid yesterday. To say a burden was lifted from his wide shoulders would be an understatement. Asked after the game if he’d basically been thinking about it every waking moment, the Orioles slugger replied, “Pretty much. I tried not to not let it dominate my thoughts, but it was hard.”
There have been no shortage of questions. The Baltimore media is, by and large, both fair and respectful. Even so, they have jobs to do. Davis’s ignominious, ultimately record-setting, streak needed to be reported on, on a nearly-daily basis. He’s relieved that’s no longer necessary.
“I was fired up,” David said of yesterday’s first-inning single. “But I think the biggest thing for me is not having the headache of having to answer questions, and not have my teammates answer questions. And [manager Brandon] Hyde. I mean, good grief. He’s had to answer questions about me pretty much every day. We’ve kind of turned the page now.”
Fans of the Peanuts comic strip are familiar with “good grief.” Charlie Brown uttered that idiom often. And for good reason. At seemingly every turn, he was either having the football pulled away at the last second, or getting undressed by a line drive. We laughed, but we also felt his pain. We’re fallible humans. It was impossible not to root for Charlie Brown.
Chris Davis has 1,102 big-league hits. Three of them came yesterday. Lucy van Pelt was nowhere to be seen.
Richie Martin’s career has taken some twists and turns since he was featured in this column in September 2016. At the time, the slick-fielding shortstop was finishing up his first full professional season in the Oakland A’s organization. He’s now with the Orioles, who selected him first-overall in last December’s Rule-5 draft.
In between, his bat morphed from Hyde to Jekyll. Two years ago, Martin slashed an anemic .234/.311/.332 between the California League and the Texas League. Last year he rebounded to the tune of .300/.368/.439 at Double-A Midland. Somewhat curiously, he did so with compromised vision.
When I caught up to Martin at Fenway Park on Friday, he told me that he got his eyes checked over the offseason — this on the suggestion of A’s player development coordinator Ed Sprague — and the result was prescription contacts. The young Oriole didn’t hum Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” in the telling, but he did describe the difference as “like night and day.”
His eyesight isn’t the only thing that’s changed for the better. Or so he hopes. Martin travelled to California this winter to work with hitting guru Craig Wallenbrock, who is known for having helped hone J.D. Martinez’s power-packed swing. And while it would be folly to think that Martin — a middle infielder with middling present power — is going to start hitting bombs like the Red Sox slugger… well, why not dream big? “Who knows,” Martin told me with a smile. “Maybe. You never know.”
Jumping from Double-A to the big leagues is hard. Martin has just five hits in his first 34 at bats. He’s yet to leave the yard.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
An oddity occurred when the Red Sox hosted the Blue Jays on Tuesday: a pitcher got a putout on a strikeout. The batter swung and missed on a two-strike pitch in the dirt, and the ball caromed off the catcher’s shin guard toward the pitcher, who proceeded to tag out the batter-turned-runner.
The official scorer on duty that night, Mike Shalin, had never seen that happen in his 17 years as a scorer. Shalin contacted the Elias Sports Bureau, who confirmed that the catcher should not be credited with an assist on the play.
San Diego Padres outfield prospect Buddy Reed started this season 1 for 17. Then he caught fire. Going into last night’s game with the Double-A Amarillo Sod Poodles, Reed was 8 for his last 20, and five of those knocks were round-trippers. In a word, he’s been torrid.
Last year was a tale of two halves. Sandwiched around an appearance in the All-Star Future’s Game, the 23-year-old switch-hitter put up a .921 OPS in the Cal League, and a .461 OPS in the Texas League. With the second-half struggles in mind, Reed spent the offseason, and spring training, refining his stroke. He had an area of the plate in mind.
“I’ve been working a lot on the outside pitch,” Reed told me last month at Padres camp. “All facets of it. High and outside. Middle and outside. And especially low and outside. That’s the pitcher’s best pitch. If you can master hitting a low-and-away pitch that’s painted, then you can master any pitch.”
As you’d expect, Reed has a middle-to-opposite-field approach on pitches away. Dunking singles isn’t part of that approach. Driving the ball is the goal, which requires proper hitting mechanics.
“It’s about taking my back knee and having my body, and swing, go with the pitch,” explained Reed. “You only have, what, point-four seconds to make that split decision? But if I’m focusing on what my body is doing, and what my swing path is doing, that will create backspin in the direction I want the ball to go.”
A lot of hitters say that it’s easier to look away, and adjust inside, than vice versa. I asked the University of Florida product if that’s the case for him.
“That’s a tough question,” responded Reed. “For me it’s just reaction. I know that with the skill set I have, I can cover the outside and inside pitch, regardless of where I’m looking. I don’t want to go out of my approach, though. If I’m looking in one zone, I don’t want to swing in the other zone. So I work on hitting both outside and inside pitches. Middle will take care of itself. But again, if I can master that outside pitch, I shouldn’t get beat inside, or obviously in the middle of the plate.”
Scott Sanderson, who pitched for seven teams between 1978-1994, died earlier this week at the too-young age of 62. Born in Dearborn, Michigan, Sanderson went on to log 2,561.2 big-league innings, and be credited with 163 wins.
Two Sundays ago this column led with how Ryan McMahon had been tearing the cover off the baseball since the start of spring training. As fate would have it, things proceeded to get a little rocky for the Colorado infielder. Three hitless games later, he was placed on the injured list with an elbow sprain.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s former second baseman is tearing it up with his new team. In 51 plate appearances with the New York Yankees, D.J. LeMahieu is slashing a healthy .432/.490/.545. [ A.L. East opponents might want to remind him that he not supposed to be able to produce outside of Coors Field.]
Count his former teammate among those rooting for him.
“It stinks that we lost D.J.,” McMahon said this spring. “He’s one of the best guys. Forget baseball player; he’s the best person I’ve ever met.”
On Tuesday, Puerto Rican managers faced each other for the first time in MLB history. Boston’s Alex Cora [Caguas, PR] was in the home dugout, while Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo [Florida, PR] was in the opposing dugout. The latter was asked about the meaningfulness of the matchup prior to the game.
“It’s a big deal in Puerto Rico right now,” Montoyo told reporters. “There are a lot of people here from Puerto Rico. I talked to Alex yesterday for a bit, and he’s very proud, also. He’s very happy of this moment. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”
One thing the first-year manager hadn’t been enjoying is his young team’s offensive production. Going into Tuesday’s game, Blue Jays hitters had combined for a .183/.261/.318 slash line, and scored just 29 runs in 11 games.
Four days earlier I’d asked Cincinnati manager David Bell how much longer his club’s offensive doldrums — every bit as bad as Toronto’s — would need to continue before he put togther his batting order by drawing names out of a hat. [The question and his answer were in last Sunday’s column.] Is the old Billy Martin strategy something Montoyo would consider?
“I’m not going that far,” the first-year-manager told me. “It’s 11 games. I’m not going to panic. And they’re young guys. We’re going to be all right. We’re going to make an adjustment.”
Apparently they did. Over their next three games, the Jays scored seven, six, and seven runs. There was some lineup shuffling — Montoyo has shown no aversion to tweaking — but by all accounts, it was done in a conventional manner.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Yahoo Sports, Mark Townsend wrote about recent ump-charging meltdowns by frustrated Cubs and Rockies.
What’s Behind MLB’s Bizarre Spike In Contract Extensions? Travis Sawchik delved into that question at FiveThirtyEight.
MLB is staring down a gender problem, and Erica Hunzinger explained how at NPR’s All Things Considered.
Over at Baseball America, J.J. Cooper provided us with a list of the 10 youngest players in every league — MLB on down — on Opening Day.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Earlier this week, the Cincinnati Reds became the first team ever to start a season with two or fewer wins in their first 10 games while scoring more runs than they allowed.
Since the start of season, Nick Markakis has passed John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Bert Campaneris, Jose Cruz, and Marquis Grissom on the all-time-hits list. Markakis has 2,254 hits, and is tied with Willie McGee and Ron Santo for the 167th-most in MLB history.
On this date in 1955, Elston Howard became the first black player to appear in a game for New York Yankees.He did so at Fenway Park, and hit a run-scoring single his first time up.
On Wednesday, Albert Pujols became the seventh player with 1,000-or-more games in both the American and National leagues. The others are Carlos Beltran, Bob Boone, Vladimir Guerrero, Fred McGriff, Frank Robinson, and Dave Winfield.
On Friday, Boston’s Matt Barnes struck out two Orioles batters, one of whom reached on a wild pitch, while recording just one out. It was the first time since at least 1908 that a Red Sox pitcher had multiple Ks in a one-third-of-an-inning appearance.
Trey Mancini is 27 for 74 (.365) in his career at Fenway Park. The Orioles outfielder has six doubles, two triples, and three home runs at Boston’s home venue.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the only team Chris Archer hasn’t faced since reaching the big leagues in 2012.
Per Baseball America, a minor league team typically goes through between 7,000 and 10,000 baseballs over the course of the season.
Guy Hecker went 52-20 with a 1.80 ERA, and completed 72 of his 73 starts, for the American Association’s Louisville Eclipse in 1884. Two years later he led the same league with a .341 batting average.