Tag Archive | "Fastball"

It’s all fun and games until Greg Maddux teaches you his pick-off move.

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It’s all fun and games until Greg Maddux teaches you his pick-off move.

Posted on 08 March 2013 by Trish Vignola

Ok, my prediction that Barry Larkin will get some serious notice when the managerial carousel begins this season is pretty much on the mark. Everything else I said regarding the World Baseball Classic? Not so much. In an attempt to save face, I’ve decided to turn my attention to another pool of countries. Let’s look at one I actually know something about.

Hello Team USA!

TeamUSA

As the clock ticks down to Team USA’s first official game, Greg Maddux walked out to the mound to visit Derek Holland. This time though it was as a pitching coach and not an ace. However, every time Maddux went to the mound to pitch in his career (22 seasons and 355 major-league victories), he was doing it as a pitching coach…kinda of.

Take that Eric Gagne! (He was the pitching coach for Team France which failed to qualify.)

Are you surprised though? Greg Maddux was always a lesson in “what to do” for pitchers in both dugouts. He was and is a constant reminder of the lethal properties hiding in an 88 m.p.h. fastball.

Ask folks like R.A. Dickey.

Joe Torre, Team USA’s manager, said he contacted Maddux before any other potential member of his coaching staff. The belief that working in the WBC “imperils arms” demanded a reassuring presence, especially because pitchers in the WBC are expected to be ready faster. “I just felt it was important to have a pitching coach who knows what it’s like to go through spring training, and he was playing, what, four years ago?” Torre said to MLB.com. “It’s a security blanket for a lot of the pitchers here.”

Probably for a fair amount of General Managers as well.

Maddux took a day to answer Torre’s request, clearing the idea with his family. “I wanted to do it the minute I hung up,” he said. “But you’ve got to take care of the other side of your life.” Maddux spent the last three seasons as a special instructor for the Cubs and Rangers. His responsibilities have been limited, allowing for a normal family life relative to his years as a player.

Maddux hadn’t studied the effect of WBC participation on arms, but he committed to running the staff exactly as if it were prepping to start a full MLB season. “I know the intensity of the games is a lot more,” he said. “But the physical load of it’s going to be no different from what they’re accustomed to this time of year in spring training.”

Maddux has to defer to some pretty strict WBC ground rules (no more than 65 pitches per appearance in this opening round) and the concerns of his pitchers’ regular coaches. But he’s free to coach in the most important ways, advising on technique or massaging a pickoff move. More than free, actually. “That’s one of my obligations,” he said.

It might also have been one of Torre’s recruiting tools.

“I think it made a lot of… managers comfortable (about pitchers leaving spring camps for the WBC),” he said, “because let’s think about it. Their pitchers have a chance to spend these weeks with Greg Maddux. That’s pretty good tutoring.” Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants’ postseason ace of 2012, didn’t hesitate when asked what he most wanted to learn from Maddux: “The backdoor two-seamer to a righty. I have my first bullpen session with him tomorrow, and we’re going to dive into it.”

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The Next Knuckler Reports To Camp

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The Next Knuckler Reports To Camp

Posted on 24 February 2013 by Trish Vignola

Josh Booty may have won the MLB Network’s “The Next Knuckler,” but his work has just begun.

JoshBooty

Booty showed up to camp on Thursday and worked a bit in the bullpen with former Major League knuckler and current Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster Tom Candiotti. “He’s got the best fastball of any knuckleballer I’ve ever seen,” Candiotti told MLB. “He can flat out throw it.” He threw 88-89 mph during the bullpen session with his fastball.

Are you asking yourself, what’s “The Next Kunckler”? With the Knuckleball quickly becoming an extinct pitch, the MLB Network aired a reality show about the search for the pitch’s heir apparent. Think “American Idol”…but with Kevin Millar.

“With the knuckleball, he can throw it,” Candiotti said. “He’s got the ability to be able to take the spin off the ball. It’s a constant battle for him right now with his mechanics right now, being able to repeat his delivery, because he drifts a little bit.” “In my mind, I’m taking it serious,” Booty said to MLB. “I don’t want to come in here and goof off.”

The Diamondbacks agreed to have Booty in camp and will allow him to at least throw one inning during a Major League game. Past that, he will need to earn anything else he gets. It is possible if he impresses enough that he could wind up getting a spot in the Minor Leagues.

Convinced I am the only one that watched this show, is anyone shocked that the team in question is the Arizona Diamondbacks? Has Kirk Gibson gone Hollywood?

To be fair, Josh Booty has a history on the diamond. He was actually drafted fourth overall out of high school as a shortstop by the Marlins in the 1994 First-Year Player Draft. The Marlins inked him to a then-record $1.6 million signing bonus with the stipulation that he not play football.

“I cried the night that I signed the contract,” Booty said to MLB about having to give up football.

Booty spent 1994-98 in the Marlins system, where he hit .198. He got 30 plate appearances in the big leagues from 1996-98 and hit .269. In 1999, he left baseball and went to Louisiana State University, where he played quarterback for two seasons.

In 2001 he was taken in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks and bounced around a few organizations, mainly on the practice squads. Nevertheless, at age 37, he’s hoping for one more shot.

“It’s kind of writing the last chapter,” Booty said to MLB. “I’ve been close a few times. This is like I’m a rookie for the third time. If I was able to get on the field, I mean it’s crazy. I’m just going to have fun with it to be honest with you and get myself in shape so that I have a chance and keep it simple.” Not many players attempt comebacks at his age, but his athletic prowess and ability to throw a knuckleball mean he can’t totally be counted out. After beating out former NCAA Division I quarterbacks John David Booty (his brother), Doug Flutie, Ryan Perrilloux and David Greene, Josh Booty now finds himself back at Spring Training, this time as a non-roster invitee.

“Yeah, I’m 37 years old, but I don’t have any wear and tear on my arm and my shoulder and I never got hurt because in the NFL I was a backup the whole time,” Booty said. “I feel comfortable and my arm is healthy and I think I can get it back to where I was when I was in my 20s.”

When MLB Network pitched the idea of the reality show at a Major League Baseball owners meeting, Diamondbacks team president/CEO Derrick Hall immediately volunteered to be the team that gave the winner a non-roster invitation. It was a chance for national brand awareness for their new look, tougher franchise. (Ask Justin Upton.)

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson (who I did not pin for one who would participate in the trappings of our new realty show culture) threw Booty into a pitching group right away on Friday. He said the organization wants to make sure that he’s able to handle himself on the mound before sticking him in a game.

While the show finished taping three weeks ago, the final episode aired Thursday night. Ever since he knew he won the competition, Booty has been throwing long toss and trying to get his body in better shape. Two weeks ago, he spent a week with former knuckler Charlie Hough in California and last week he was in Florida working with Tim Wakefield, another longtime Major League knuckleball pitcher.

“I know my pitching is a lot better now than it was on that show three or four weeks ago,” Booty said. “I’ve come crazy far in three weeks and if I can get another 10-15 opportunities to throw sides, bullpens, work with [pitching coach Charles Nagy], do some things here with Candiotti … I think the sky would be the limit.”

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Barry Zito …. the pitcher du jour

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Barry Zito …. the pitcher du jour

Posted on 24 October 2012 by Trish Vignola

Barry Zito, the suddenly now relevant lefty, will pitch Game 1 for the San Francisco Giants tomorrow night. Manager Bruce Bochy opted with Zito, who turned that abysmal contract and in turn his career around this year. Alex Rodriguez should take note.

Zito’s outing in a 5-0 victory on Friday night in Game 5 of the NL championship series at Busch Stadium was down right stellar. He helped San Francisco rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. His fastball may have lost speed, but it was Zito’s crafty performance that allowed the Giants to return to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Left off the postseason roster for all three rounds in 2010, Zito made a conscious decision to find his way by just plain having fun again. He just started forgetting the bad starts and moving on to the next. Whatever he did to change his mental approach, it has certainly paid off. Zito is the pitcher du jour.

It doesn’t hurt he now has four pitches to baffle batters, aside from just his nasty curveball that defined his career back in the early days of the Big Three. “It’s hard to sum it up in one answer,” Zito said to the Associated Press (AP) after beating the Cardinals. “It’s just a plethora of things that I’ve done and gone through here with the Giants. But the most important thing was to come out and give everything I’ve got.”

The Giants have won Zito’s last 13 starts. Psychologically, if you have to go up against the best pitcher in baseball (Justin Verlander), you would put Zito up first as well. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland went 15-8 for his most wins since joining the Giants on a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season.

“He’s been through a lot, obviously. He took the beatings,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said in the AP of Zito. “He’s always been a stand-up guy, he’s never stopped working. In his own way he’s never stopped believing and he’s made changes. He’s made changes when he had to. I actually don’t think other than when he first came here that he was supposed to be the lead dog in the staff as it turned out the young guys were so good so fast. You look back in Oakland he was just one of the group. I don’t think the money ever bothered him.”

“In this game sometimes we forget at times what we’re all capable of, and I think those are the times when we struggle a little bit,” Zito said. Zito won his last five regular-season starts and seven decisions of the regular season since a loss Aug. 2 to the Mets.

He has tweaked his delivery, added a cut fastball and learned to make adjustments right away when things go wrong. “I think Barry really deserves most of the credit along with Dave Righetti, with them working together,” Bochy said to the AP. “Sometimes in this game you’ve got to make changes, adjustments, that’s what the game is about. And Barry’s done that. He’s a little different than what he was when he won the Cy Young. Maybe he doesn’t have that same velocity. So he’s had to I think change his style of pitching a little bit. And he’s come up with the cutter. And I think he’s pitching down more than he used to.”

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Knuckleball hits your screens as Dickey hits his 20th.

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Knuckleball hits your screens as Dickey hits his 20th.

Posted on 01 October 2012 by Trish Vignola

Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern didn’t know much about baseball before the 2011 major league season. The co-directors of the documentary “Knuckleball!” had different views of the pitch that would be the centerpiece of their film. “I knew only that it was a disparaged pitch,” Sundberg said to ESPN. “My husband’s old friend from college had nothing good to say about the knuckleball, so that’s all I knew. It has a lot to do with this idea that it’s not a real pitch, that it shouldn’t be held up to the same effect as some of the other pitches like the curveball or fastball.”

“I walked into my kitchen and told my kids about making a film about Tim Wakefield and knuckleball pitchers, and my kids picked up apples and started knuckling them around the kitchen,” Stern said to ESPN. “They were New York City kids who grew up as Red Sox fans and so they had to be very strong in their convictions, and they love Tim Wakefield and the knuckleball, so their reaction was, ‘Woohoo let’s do it!’”

Despite their lack of familiarity with the subject, the two women, best known for their Emmy-nominated documentary films “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (an amazing piece within itself) and “The Devil Came On Horseback” (about the genocide in Darfur) jumped at the chance to bring the story of the controversial, oft-misunderstood pitch that has baffled batters and catchers for decades to the big screen. “We’re really attracted to the characters — the individuals and people who have obstacles and something to overcome in pursuit of their dreams,” Stern said. “For us, that just makes strong storytelling. The essence of what the symbolic meaning of the knuckleball embodies. These guys are outliers in baseball who struggle against all odds to stay in the game to pursue their dreams. They kind of clawed their way, as they say, with their fingertips — just like one holds the ball with one’s fingertips — back into the major leagues.”

“These guys” refers primarily to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, the two knuckleball pitchers in the majors during the 2011 season. The documentary also includes retired knuckleballers, Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who are a handful of the approximately 80 men who have been members of the knuckleball fraternity. “You need the fingertips of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Buddhist,” longtime major leaguer Bouton says at the top of the film, describing the talents required to master the unpredictable pitch.
With unprecedented access to Wakefield and Dickey, as well as their families, from spring training through the end of the 2011 season, Stern and Sundberg directed an endearing, engaging 90-minute documentary about the knuckleball and the men who have managed to make their careers throwing a baseball that doesn’t spin.

I challenge the idea that critics proclaim “Knuckleball” as an anti-baseball movie. Why? There’s no homerun montage? There’s no Bob Uecker?

Not that I don’t love Bob Uecker.

The film is filled with lots of beautifully shot baseball footage (MLB is a co-producer), a rich soundtrack and intricate discussions of the pitch with former players and baseball beat writers. Not only is it a great baseball movie, it’s easily one of the best baseball movies I’ve seen. This is the movie I wanted “Moneyball” to be.

“Knuckleball” is very SABR, slightly geeky and never takes itself too seriously. Does this make the film commercially friendly? Absolutely not.

Although Charlie Hough is pretty much a matinee model in my eyes.

R.A. Dickey got an ovation from the crowd the first time he appears on screen. Ok. Grant it, I saw it at the Montclair Film Festival the same day Dickey got his 20th win. That’s neither here nor there. In all truthfulness, “Knuckleball” is one of the most satisfying baseball films I’ve seen in years. If it’s not coming to a film festival near you, it’s available on iTunes and on Video On Demand through November.

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Uggh….Like an Uninvited Guest, Roger Clemens is Back.

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Uggh….Like an Uninvited Guest, Roger Clemens is Back.

Posted on 24 August 2012 by Trish Vignola

Roger Clemens had a storied career. Now, he’s like a cold sore. When he keeps coming back, it’s awfully embarrassing. The 50-year-old former All-Star signed with the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League on Monday. He is expected to start for the minor league team on Saturday at home against Bridgeport.

“His fastball was clocked at 87 mph; all of his pitches were working,” reports Randy Hendricks, Clemens’ agent, to ESPN. “He threw a three-inning simulated game after an extensive workout warm-up.”

Hendricks tells ESPN that Clemens and Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti have been talking about this “for months”. Clemens, who was acquitted in June of charges he lied to Congress, hasn’t played for a team since pitching for the Yankees in 2007 at the age of 45.

He went 6-6 in 18 games with a 4.18 ERA that season. As if that wasn’t enough of a clue to stay down.

Texas Rangers pitcher Roy Oswalt, a former teammate of Clemens with the Astros, is excited about his friend’s return to baseball. “I think he’s going to show everybody that all that stuff that he had to go through had nothing to do with the success he had in the big leagues,” Oswalt tells ESPN. “He said he’s going to do it a little bit and see how his body responds. I wouldn’t be surprised next year if he’s pitching in the big leagues for somebody.”

“He’s always loved to compete,” says Yankees Manager Joe Girardi of Clemens. “That’s who he is. He kept coming back. There were times he felt he couldn’t quite go a full season, but he gave it as much as he had. He loved to compete. That’s a hard thing to replace is that competition. Guys miss it.”

I understand. Clemens did have some great years with the Astros after turning 40. He went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 2004, winning his record-tying seventh Cy Young Award. He went 13-8 with a career-low 1.87 ERA in 2005. He also earned $160 million and won 354 games in a 24-year career with the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Astros. His 4,672 strikeouts are third-most all-time and he was named to 11 All-Star Games.

However, that’s not Skeeters’ money. He joins a “didn’t you used to be” roster that includes former major league pitchers Tim Redding and Scott Kazmir and Jason Lane, a teammate of Clemens’ on Houston’s 2005 World Series team. It isn’t clear how long Clemens will pitch for the Skeeters.
“This is a one game at a time thing,” Hendricks says. “Let’s see how he does on Saturday.”

How does he get to do this? I don’t get to report to work when I want.

Apparently I’m not the only one skeptical of Clemens’ public desire to play again. “He didn’t travel with the Astros half the time toward the end there,” notes Oakland pitcher Brett Anderson. “I can’t imagine him traveling for the Sugar Land Skeeters. I’m sure they’ll draw a good crowd and it will be fun, but it’s kind of those things you read about it and you’re like: ‘What’s he doing?’ ”

Clemens has been throwing batting practice to one of his sons often, but that doesn’t mean he’s major league ready. I get that it’s difficult to get that urge to compete out of your blood. But, what about overstaying your welcome?

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