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 — Nestor Cortes Jr., Randy Flores, and Vince Velasquez — on how they learned and developed their sliders.
Nestor Cortes Jr., New York Yankees
“When I first got drafted, I was just fastball-curveball-changeup. One of my pitching coaches in Rookie ball, Jose Rosado, told me I needed [a slider]. I was throwing a bullpen and he was, ‘Hey, you’ve got the slow curveball, and you’ve got your heater. There’s about a 15 mph difference, so you need something in between.’ We started messing around with the grip.
“It’s come a long way since then, but there’s still a lot of room to improve it. It’s basically like a cutter, and I’m trying to get more depth to it. I’ve tried to make it better, but I haven’t been able to get the result I wanted, so when I was back in Triple-A this year I went back to the one that’s more like a cutter. But I still call it a slider. It’s bigger and slower than a true cutter.
“I’m trying to create more spin with it. I’m substituting the velo for spin, trying to get more break. I’m also kind of messing around with the grip. I’m keeping it the same to where I can feel I’m ripping through it, but I’m maybe getting more on top of it, to where I can create the angle of my fastball. I think my fastball angle is good with the slider from that slot. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Dylan Bundy, Cory Gearrin, and Dereck Rodriguez — on how they learned and developed their changeups.
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
“I’d tried a circle change, and throwing with these two fingers [the middle and ring], but I never could do it. First of all, it doesn’t make sense to throw with those two fingers when you don’t throw any other pitches with them. You throw every pitch with the [middle and pointer], and your thumb, right? I kind of got around to, ‘Why try it?’
“I decided to spread my fingers over the two seams — this was in 2016 — and while I don’t know if you’d consider it a split, I call it a split. Some people only consider it a split if you full on choke it. For me it’s not a choke so much as a spread. When you bring your thumb up, really far up to the side of the ball, that way you get the action. If your thumb is underneath the ball, you get more straight drop, if that makes sense. You’re throwing against your thumb.
“I first threw a four-seam [changeup] — same grip, same spread — but then, two years ago… actually, no. Last year was the first time I started doing a two-seam grip instead of a four-seam grip. My thought process had been to try to make it look exactly like my heater, because I thought hitters could read spin, but I was told that hitters can’t make up their minds on spin that quick. I was told, ‘Don’t worry about that; don’t worry about the spin, worry about the action.’ That’s when I went to the two-seam split-change. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers —Jace Fry, Mitch Keller, and Josh Taylor — on how they learned and developed their sliders.
Jace Fry, Chicago White Sox
“I started throwing a slider when I was about 14, but it was a different grip, and a different kind of pitch. It was more of a big, sweeping slider. After my second Tommy John surgery, I stopped throwing that one and started throwing the slider I have now. J.R. Perdew taught it to me. This would have been in 2016. I gained a little more velocity, and get sharper action.
“Going back to the beginning, I started throwing a curveball when I was 10, and that one I’ve been throwing my whole career. The slider was added once I got into high school. Growing up, there were a lot of good coaches in my area [Beaverton, Oregon]. My pitching coach was Jim Coffman, who is an area scout for Oakland. I went to him for four or five years, and he’s the one who taught me how to spin the ball correctly, and how to be on time. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Brian Bannister, Andrew Cashner, and Rick Porcello — on how they learned and developed their changeups.
Brian Bannister, Boston Red Sox (VP/Pitching Development)
“Everyone starts that journey of trying to throw it slow, and in that process you choke the grip, you drag your back foot, you curl your toes — you do everything you can to make the pitch slower. But Zack Greinke will talk about how we had a teammate [in Kansas City] named Ramon Ramirez who threw his changeup 90 mph. He didn’t even try to throw it slow. We watched him do it successfully. We watched Felix Hernandez do it successfully. We were always watching James Shields dominate with a power changeup. That’s what we used to call it.
“Once we started realizing that your hand pronates more on a changeup than it can on a two-seamer, we could get the depth of an elite two-seamer by throwing our changeups as hard as possible. It added that element where it was almost a Brandon Webb sinker, but you’re holding it with a changeup grip. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Dylan Cease, Tyler Duffey, and Buck Farmer— on how they learned and developed their curveballs.
Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox
“I first learned a curveball when I was 12 or 13 years old. I think a coach probably taught me, but it’s tough to say that far back. I do know that I didn’t throw a whole lot of curveballs back in the day; it was mostly fastballs.
“When I got to pro ball, it took me… I really didn’t know anything about how to throw one. I had to figure out how to throw it like a fastball, how to get it to stay on a fastball plane, how to throw it with arm speed. At first I wanted to baby it. It kind of had a loop in it. I needed to work on things like the shape, and how it came out of my hand.
“It was a regular curveball until last year when I got to Double-A and changed to a knuckle curve. I was talking to Dane Dunning. I liked the shape of his curveball. I said, ‘I feel like mine is a little loopy; how do you do that?’ He showed me his knuckle curve grip, which I’m pretty sure he got from James Shields — indirectly from James Shields — and throwing it like that added a bunch of extra spin and drop. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Madison Bumgarner, Emilio Pagan, and Jacob Waguespack— on how they learned and developed their cutter/sliders.
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
“I pretty much find myself saying ‘cutter-slider,’ just so there’s no confusion. I originally wanted to call it a slider, but it ended up with most people calling it a cutter. Movement-wise… in relation to my fastball it’s kind of like the speed of a cutter, but it moves a little more like a slider. Sometimes it will be a little shorter, though.
“I started throwing it 2010. I’d just got sent down from spring training and there was a guy named Horacio Ramirez, a left-hander from Mexico. He was there. He was an older guy who knew how to pitch, and he threw a cutter. I didn’t really have any off-speed pitches at that time; I basically didn’t throw anything all through the minor leagues, and then … I threw an actual slider, but it was no good at all. When I got to the big leagues in 2009 I threw it some, but it wasn’t no good. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Chance Adams, Domingo German, and Nick Pivetta — on how they learned and developed their curveballs.
Chance Adams, New York Yankees
“When I was in college my pitching coach was Wes Johnson, who is now with the Twins. He taught me my curve. For awhile it was kind of slurve-slider, then it went to a curveball, and now it’s kind of slurvy again. But it’s interesting, because when I got [to Dallas Baptist University] it was, ‘OK, I throw it like this,’ and he was like, ‘Well, have you tried spiking it?’ My curve was moving, but it wasn’t sharp, and I was like, ‘No, not really.’ Spiking it was uncomfortable at first, but after I got used to it, it was pretty interesting. It started moving better.
“My pointer finger is off the seam, with just a little pressure on the ball. Wes said to try spiking it and see what feels good, so I worked on it with this much spike, that much spike. Even now, the spike kind of varies for me; I’ll move it back or forward for comfortability, but also movement-wise. Sometimes it’s sharper when it’s more spiked. It kind of depends on the day, and if I’m controlling it or not. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Larry Andersen, Durbin Feltman, and Trevor May— on how they learned and developed their sliders.
Larry Andersen, Philadelphia Phillies (broadcaster)
“I was a sophomore in high school, and we had a senior pitcher named Don Beckwith who had a slider. At the time, I just had a fastball and a curveball. He showed me his grip and I was like, ‘Let me try this.’ From there I implemented it into my repertoire. It was a pitch I picked up right away. It felt comfortable. It’s almost like holding a fastball off-center a little bit.
“Of course, then there was the pressure on my fingertips and how far back I held it in my hand. That type of thing. I played with those over the years to the point where I felt I had three different pitches with essentially the same grip Don Beckwith showed me in high school.
Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — JT Chargois, Brad Keller, and Adam Ottavino — on how they learned and developed their sliders.
JT Chargois, Los Angeles Dodgers
“I was having trouble getting one to spin — to turn over — so my high school coach showed me a spike. Over the years I’ve manipulated where I hold my [pointer finger] on the ball, but it’s still a spiked-curveball grip. I just throw it like a heater. Instead of getting out front and pulling it like a curveball, I stay true on it as though it was a heater.
“When I get in trouble — maybe it’s backing up on me — and I need to make an adjustment, I tend to change my mindset to more of a curveball, to more of a downer-pitch. I want it to have two planes, as opposed to just moving horizontally.
“It was actually taught to me as a curveball. Then I started throwing harder as I got older. I got stronger and was literally trying to throw the crap out of it. That’s kind of how it migrated into a slider. As opposed to having more of a wrist-turn to get a bigger break, [a slider] is more about the manipulation of your hand position at release point. Read the rest of this entry »
In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Trevor Cahill, Marco Gonzales, and David Phelps— on how they learned and developed their curveballs.
Trevor Cahill, Los Angeles Angels
“I didn’t throw my [current] curveball until my second year in the big leagues. I used to throw the double-knuckle — I didn’t spin it; I would literally flick it — and that worked in the minor leagues. It was actually my strikeout pitch. But once I got up here, I couldn’t really throw it with the big-league ball. Not consistently.
“The seams in the minor leagues were bigger, and that made a difference. Plus, big league hitters are more patient. I used to throw that pitch in the dirt a lot, and get swings, but I had trouble throwing it for strikes. Big league hitters, if you can’t throw it for a strike, they see that spin and just spit on it.
“One day I was playing catch with Brett Anderson, working on his slider grip, which he spikes. I did that, and it was really good on flat ground, so that offseason I started working on it. Then my finger started coming up higher, so I was throwing a normal spiked curveball. In 2010, in spring training, I started using it against hitters. I’ve thrown it ever since. Read the rest of this entry »