How Blaine Hardy Stumbled Upon a Vulcan

Blaine Hardy believes in the value of “screwing around with things.” That’s how the 31-year-old Detroit Tigers left-hander learned how to throw one of his best pitches. Tinkering while playing catch, he discovered a vulcan.

His career was at a crossroads at the time. Five years after the Kansas City Royals took him in the 22nd round of the 2008 draft out of Lewis-Clark State College, Hardy was treading water in the minors. As a low-round pick with a nothing-special fastball, he needed either to dd a new pitch or to improve the quality of one he already threw. With a who-knows-what-you-might-stumble-upon mindset, he kind of did both.

Hardy, who will be on the mound for the Tigers tonight, has made 22 appearances on the season, 12 of them as a starter. He has a record of 4-4 to go with his 3.53 ERA, and he’s thrown the pitch in question nearly a quarter of the time.

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Blaine Hardy: “I’ve always had a good changeup. Growing up, my dad didn’t want me throwing a curveball or slider — anything with spin — nor did my pitching coach. They said, ‘Just keep it straight. That’s going to help your arm in the long run.’ I was like, ‘Well, alright. So, what are we going to work on?’ Well, a changeup, obviously.

“I basically threw a circle change to start. I learned how to simulate my arm speed to my fastball, and it was a very good pitch for me. It looked exactly like my fastball and would just die a little bit.

“For whatever reason, over the years it kind of straightened out. I was tweaking certain grips to try to make it a little bit slower, a little bit slower, a little bit slower. People would talk to me about trying to dip my back side, which I tried, and it didn’t feel right. Nothing seemed to work. Finally — this was around the time the Royals released me and the Tigers picked me up (in 2013) — I switched to a modified split. It’s not with the main fingers, but rather the ring finger and the middle finger. It’s what’s been called ‘a vulcan.’

“Basically, I was screwing around with every grip I possibly could, and I stumbled on that one. I threw it, and it went straight down. I was like, ‘I want that.’

“From there, I kept throwing it and throwing it and throwing it, and over time, instead of going straight down, it started moving a little bit farther out. It started tailing off like a two-seamer. That’s where my changeup is today.

“I’ve actually never been a fan of even attempting to throw a split. I’ve tried it maybe once or twice… and it hurt like hell. Maybe I was just throwing it wrong, but they always talk about how some guys who throws splits end up with elbow problems. That’s because of the way they’re finishing the pitch. Well, I don’t finish mine like a split. I actually finish pronating, like a changeup. The grip I use is really just to take velocity off.

“I’m obviously not the first [pitcher to use a vulcan grip]. I highly doubt that anyone is coming up with a new pitch nowadays. Everything has been tried at some point, so it’s just a matter of whether someone was famous for throwing something, or if it happened to be, ‘Oh, that’s how he held his changeup’ and no one knew that.

“When you decide, ‘I need to figure out how to throw this pitch,’ you go through anyone and everyone that has thrown that certain kind of pitch. They’ll give you different types of grips and the mindset of how to throw it. And again, sometimes you’re just messing around and trying different things.

“For me, the best time to work on grips is playing catch. You’ll see better results in the bullpen, but until you get comfortable with a certain way of throwing something, there’s no reason to throw it off a mound, because you’re not really going to know how to repeat it. Playing catch is the easiest way to repeat. That’s because you can go nice and easy, and kind of get a feel for where your extension is and how you’re finishing certain pitches. Then you can take it to a mound and hone that feeling ever more.

“As pitchers, we all play catch every day before games, and that’s when we screw around with things. At least that’s when I screw around with things. I still do it. Like, who knows? You might stumble upon another new pitch that’s better than your old one. Right? I happened to stumble on a modified split — a ‘vulcan,’ if you will.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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LHPSU
4 years ago

Live long and prosper.