Tewksbury’s Notebook: Pitching to the Best Hitters of the 1990s

Earlier this summer, former St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Bob Tewksbury took us through his outings in 1992 against the Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. He did so with the help of his old notebook, which includes scouting reports, results of individual at bats and more.

In the third installment of Tewksbury’s Notebook, the focus isn’t on specific teams. Instead, the veteran of 13 big-league seasons discussed how he approached pitching to 10 of the best hitters of his era.


Tewksbury on Tony Gwynn [10-for-33 versus Tewksbury]: “The bottom line with Tony is that he stayed back really well. He could hit the breaking ball the other way. I could throw him a curveball early, because he didn’t always swing at the first pitch. You could also jam him, although he would cheat on the fastball. He would make educated guesses at times.

“I tried to stay hard on Gwynn. I couldn’t throw the ball by anybody, but he reacted so well to breaking balls that you couldn’t fool him. He didn’t swing and miss at many breaking balls. He’d foul them off until he got to his count. With a lot of these good hitters you have to mix things up, but I also had to throw a lot of fastballs and pitch in. I had to jam these guys.

“Ultimately, the way you got Tony Gwynn out was to throw it right down the middle of the plate. And this is God’s honest truth: Sometimes the good hitters who can manipulate the baseball, inner-half and outer-half, are so used to doing that, if they see the ball right down the middle, they’re too quick with the bat. They end up topping the ball, because they don’t know what to do with it. There are times where you can essentially throw the ball down the middle and let them get themselves out.”

Gary Sheffield [1-for-14]: “He wanted to swing. He would hit that strike breaking ball late in the count, because he was so strong, so I would literally just keep pounding him in. Once he started turning on things, I could throw the ball away.

“He was aggressive and right on top of the plate, so I had to make sure I didn’t fear hitting him. Sometimes when you’re trying to go inside you don’t get in quite far enough. One way to determine where ‘in’ is, is when you hit the guy. If you hit him you hit him, but you know you got the ball in.”

Barry Larkin [9-for-36]: “You had to be careful throwing changeups to Larkin, because he stayed back. He was like Dustin Pedroia in that his bat stayed in the zone a long time. Right-on-right changeups weren’t a strength for me, plus he was a tough hitter. He had power and hit the ball to all fields.

“I remember one time with Larkin, in a day game in Cincinnati, he came up with a runner in scoring position. The ball came back to me scuffed, and while I never scuffed a ball, I knew what to do with it. I threw it down and in and he missed it. On the next pitch he grounded out. Then either Paul O’Neill or Hal Morris was up, and I threw the same pitch and he fouled it out of play. I wanted that ball back, because I had the advantage. At least I was able to get Larkin out with it.

“You couldn’t stay in the same pattern with Larkin. Most really good hitters are like that. They make adjustments, they eliminate pitches, and they eliminate halves of the plate. If it’s 2-0 and they know you can’t throw an off-speed pitch, they’re looking fastball. If you can’t command your fastball, they can sit breaking ball. Larkin could do that.”

Will Clark [11-for-34]: “He was another guy you had to mix pitches on. He had power to all fields. He would sit on certain pitches. I pitched against him in the early ‘90s and played with him in ‘95, in Texas. He told me about how he would hunt certain pitches. It was hard to get a swing-and-miss from him; it was hard to strike him out. You had to really change your patterns, in-and-out and up-and-down. All of these guys we’re talking about — if you can’t command your fastball and throw an off-speed pitch for a strike, they’re going to kill you.”

Matt Williams [13-for-48]: “Him, Bonds and Clark in that lineup were pretty formidable. He liked the ball in, and he liked the ball down. I would throw him breaking balls, show him in, and then try to get him out away. He was another guy whose bat stayed in the zone. I didn’t want to throw him breaking balls — especially sliders — in the strike zone when I was ahead in the count.

“My fastball was 83 to 86 [mph], my curveball was maybe 68 to 74, and my slider didn’t have enough break and depth for it to be an out pitch. It was more of a backdoor to a lefty, or a 2-1 pitch to a righty. It wasn’t a strikeout pitch, so I would throw my curveballs out of the zone to try to get hitters to chase.”

Darryl Strawberry [5-for-15] and Mike Piazza [5-for-13]; “Strawberry liked to extend — he liked the ball over the plate — so you had to pitch him in. Any hitter you can jam; no one likes the ball in. They can look for it, but it has to be in off the plate. In doesn’t mean the inner-third, it means on the black or inside. Inner-third, they hit.

“Piazza was one of the right-handed hitters who liked the ball up. I tried to stay down and away and show him in. He was pretty quick inside. He liked to hit the ball to right field, but anything elevated out over the plate he really hit a long way. I liked to throw him curveballs to speed him up a little bit, and then throw the fastball down-and-in, early, or down-and-away, late.”

Jeff Bagwell [8-for-30] and Craig Biggio 12-for-30]: “Biggio and Bagwell were a tough twosome to pitch to. Bagwell was more aggressive than Biggio. Bags had the wide stance and his hands were down. He could get to the ball down-and-in because he was so quick. If you got the ball up against him, middle-up or up-and-away, he hit that ball well. You had to stay down. He made you work really hard to get him out.

“Biggio looked offspeed when he was behind in the count, or even late in the count. He was a good fastball hitter and really good on the changeup. But you could get in on him. He dove into the ball a little bit more than Bagwell, from what I can remember. I think I started throwing Biggio more breaking balls early and then jamming him late.”

Andres Galarraga [6-for-38]: “He was tough. I played against him all the way back to A-ball. With him it was stay hard in and out, go down-and-in, and no fastballs with runners in scoring position. I couldn’t throw the ball by him. He was a really good fastball hitter who was hunting a fastball early in the count, especially when he could drive in runs. I tried to get ahead with curveballs.

“The guys we’re talking about were all good hitters who could hurt you in different ways. I know this sounds repetitive, but you have to be able to command the fastball, work inside, use your breaking ball effectively, and mix things up. If you fell into a pattern, guys like that make you pay for it.”


Coming next in Tewksbury’s Notebook, how he pitched to Barry Bonds.

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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Mike Green
9 years ago

I loved the comment about getting Gwynn out by throwing a pitch down the middle. Gwynn knows that Tewksbury has excellent control, and doesn’t expect a pitch down the middle. In some ways, it works like a changeup with the deception being about location rather than velocity.

Free Bryan LaHair
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Green

yeah, that was surprising to read. great write-up.

Sergio Romo
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike Green

heh heh heh

9 years ago
Reply to  Sergio Romo

I used to do that for a different reason to a guy I faced a lot in slo-pitch. We had a weak infield and I got tired of him mis-hitting my good pitch thru the hole (sometimes between the legs) and hustling into 2nd before the OF got the throw in. Since he didn’t have a lot of power, I would often throw him a fatball, he would try to cream it and fly out, and if it fell in, the OF could get the ball back quick enough to hold him to a single. But no, Sergio, I wouldn’t have tried that on Miggy myself.