(I always write more than I need, so I always have stuff leftover. We’re now down to the final three regular-season home games—time is running out. A couple of these pieces are about things you can only see if you attend a game, so now seemed like the right time to post them. The first one is about the warm-up pitches thrown between each inning.)
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
In between innings the pitcher gets eight warm-up throws. Big league pitchers throw so hard and their pitches have so much movement that catchers need to know what’s coming; otherwise they’ve got a good chance of missing a pitch or worse. If a catcher thinks the ball is going to be down and away, but it’s a sinker that’s going to run down and in, he can injure his thumb by having his hand in the wrong position when the ball arrives—big league pitchers throw that hard. If you want to know what a pitcher has in repertoire, watch him warm up between innings; he’ll signal the catcher what pitch he’s about to throw. Here are the signs:
Fastball: The pitcher will flip his glove toward the catcher, palm down.
Curveball: The pitcher will flip his glove toward the catcher, palm up. (It’ll kinds look like a guy playing with a yo-yo.)
Slider: The pitcher will make a diagonal motion with his glove.
Sinker: The pitcher will make a diagonal motion with the ball in his bare hand. (This motion will be in the opposite direction as the signal for the slider.)
Changeup: The pitcher will point his glove at the catcher and then pull it back toward himself.
Knuckleball: The pitcher will hold the ball up and shake it—although this is the same sign a pitcher uses when he wants a new ball. Most guys don’t have a knuckleball, so if you see this one, the pitcher probably doesn’t like the seams on the ball he has in his hand.
I’ve noticed that the pitchers are getting more and more subtle with these signs—maybe it’s a matter of looking cool—but the signs are still there if you know what to look for. Pay attention to which pitches he throws for strikes in warm ups; that might indicate what the pitcher will throw when he needs to get a pitch in the strike zone.
Changeups and their location
Sometimes all you get is three or four minutes with a player or coach as they leave the field, but if you ask the right question, those three or four minutes can be instructive: the other day bullpen coach Doug Henry was headed for the clubhouse after batting practice, but stopped for a minute to answer this question: is there ever a time you want a changeup to finish in the strike zone?
In other words; should they always start in the strike zone and then finish down and out of the zone?
According to Doug, the answer is no—when he was pitching, if he had a fastball count, he could get a quick out by throwing a changeup that finished down, but in the zone. The batter was likely to read fastball—that’s what he was expecting and hoping for—chase the change up down and pop it up or hit a weak groundball.
But that’s if you’re throwing a changeup in a fastball count.
Throw a changeup in an off-speed count and it has to be located better. That’s when you want it to finish out of the zone. Same with a fastball in a fastball count; you can throw it, but it better be located well. Give a hitter what he expects—heat in a 2-0 count—and he’ll have a good pass at it unless you can get it in a spot that’s difficult to hit.
So to recap: changeups in off-speed counts have to be well located—changeups in fastball counts can be a bit less precise.
The delayed steal
The other day Emilio Bonifacio pulled off a delayed steal and I wanted to know how that worked. Turns out it works pretty well if you know what you’re doing. Bonifacio is known as a base stealer and that actually helps: the defense doesn’t expect a guy who can straight steal to resort to a delayed steal.
A pitcher who’s slow to the plate also makes things easier; the base stealer doesn’t go right away, so everyone puts their attention on the plate—including the middle infielders— then the runner takes off. The only guy who’s immediately aware that the base runner is going is the catcher; everyone else is looking in at home plate. Once the middle infielders realize the runner is going, one of them has to cover the bag. Now it’s a race between the runner and whichever middle infielder has coverage—and the catcher has to hit a moving target.
If I recall the Bonifacio play correctly, catcher Yan Gomes dropped the ball and the shortstop never quite made it to the bag; a perfect delayed steal.
Pay attention or pay a price
Batting practice is a war zone. Get out to a game early and pay attention to what goes on during BP: there will be a guy on the mound throwing to a hitter at the plate. Coaches will stand on either side of the batting cage and hit fungoes to infielders. A coach on the third base side will hit balls to one set of fielders, a coach on the first base side will be hitting ball to another set. You might see a coach down one of the foul lines hitting balls to the outfielders.
There can be four balls in play at one time and there’s a rhythm to it: the coaches wait to see where the guy at the plate hits the ball, then they hit a ball somewhere else. Coaches can’t screw up; having two balls coming at the same guy can jack up a multi-million dollar player.
On Monday afternoon, a coach was hitting balls to third and Mike Moustakas was fielding the ball and throwing it to second base, while another coach hit balls to short and Alcides Escobar was fielding the ball and throwing it to first. A little later there were two first basemen: George Kottaras was on the bag fielding throws from short and Eric Hosmer was behind the bag fielding fungoes and throwing the ball to second. At one point something went wrong and two balls were thrown to Kottaras at the same time. George did the smart thing and bailed out. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens; guys need to pay attention.
Because batting practice is a war zone.