The changeup is key to Blue Jays' young pitchers' success
Blue Jays rookie starting pitcher Daniel Norris looks into his catcher against the Astros Monday night in Kissimmee, Fla. Norris gave up four runs over six innings in the Blue Jays’ 7-4 win. (Eddie Michels/photo)
DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Blue Jays bullpen is basically a test kitchen where menus are tested and created.
The teaching chef is pitching coach Pete Walker.
The other day Walker and right-hander Aaron Sanchez could be found in the back bullpen holding a ball, the two of them obviously discussing different grips.
Since Sanchez has been working on incorporating a slider to his repertoire it would have been a good assumption to believe they were discussing different grips to throw said pitch.
Turns out they were tossing around ideas of different grips for Sanchez’ changeup, a pitch the Jays hold dear to their hearts.
A good changeup, a deceptive changeup can be a devastating weapon. It was the bedrock of success for Johan Santana in his prime, same goes for Pedro Martinez.
“Sanchez effectively threw the slider early in camp,” Walker said. “He can throw it when we need it. It was one of those pitches where we were surprised it came so quick.
“But right now we spent some time working on his changeup. His changeup’s an effective pitch. It can be dominant at times but we’d also like to kill a little ball speed on it, so we were just playing around with different grips. He’s a quick study and he threw some good ones down there and it’s just something that we’re constantly looking at.”
It’s not a case of Sanchez having a poor changeup, they just want to fine-tune it and shaves a few miles off it. The arm action — the same as when throwing a fastball — and difference in speed between a fastball and change is at the heart of a great changeup
“It’s been an effective pitch for him in the past,” Walker said. “Obviously you didn’t see it that much last year out of the bullpen but as a starter you need to effectively change speeds. It’s effective the way it is right now no question but if he could take a little more off it, it could maybe be more of a swing-and-miss pitch.”
The changeup seems to be a theme this spring.
Another rookie member of the rotation, Daniel Norris, came into camp with a cut changeup, a pitch that breaks in on right-handers, away from left-handers.
The Jays felt a more effective changeup would be the traditional fade change, one that moves down and away from right-handers and after trying it out in a bullpen session he brought it into a start and had plenty of swings and misses last Wednesday against Baltimore. It was as if he had been throwing it his whole life.
“That was impressive to say the least,” Walker said. “He has a knack for the changeup, he just had a different grip and different action on the ball.
“One thing that we know at the major-league level, a changeup that’s cutting in on a right-handed hitter is kind of a dangerous pitch,” Walker said of the pitch that if it hangs out over the plate often ends up in the seats. “Mark Buehrle, when he gets in trouble, it’s often that changeup that cuts instead of fades.
“I think with Daniel it’s important that we rectify that and I know Russell (Martin) is in total agreement as well and we saw some quick results. We tinkered with his grip a little bit and he picked it up in three or four pitches. I think he really enjoyed throwing it and enjoyed the results.”
Rookie Miguel Castro also sports a changeup, a great one, that more than compliments his high octane fastball that sits 97-99.
Due to the fact he has extremely long fingers, Castro employs an unorthodox ‘vulcan’ grip on his change, gripping the ball between his index and ring finger.
“There’s aren’t many (that use that grip),” Walker said. “It’s a rare grip but a comfortable one for him and very effective.
“You know we don’t change anything anybody’s doing unless there’s a reason. For him (Castro) it’s an effective pitch right now that has a tremendous difference in speed between his fastball and changeup. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch that could be very effective at this level.”
It’s been his bread-and-butter all spring, one he hopes will help him ride into the big leagues.
RELIEVER HYNES WON'T BE A FALL GUY
The first thing that jumps out at you is his first name — Colt.
Colt Hynes to be exact, a veteran left-hander whose only time in the big leagues was a 22-game stint with San Diego in 2013.
Now 29, Hynes is on the verge of breaking north with the Jays as a member of their bullpen. Thanks to Brett Cecil moving up as the closer, the Jays decided they needed two more lefties in their ’pen, Aaron Loup being one with Hynes battling veteran Canadian Jeff Francis for the other spot.
Hynes looks like he’s the winner.
Now about that first name.
A good story would be that his father is a gun enthusiast and wanted to name him Smith and Wesson but his mother put her foot down.
But that’s not it.
Actually his father was a big fan of the Lee Majors 1980s series The Fall Guy and its lead character was named Colt Seavers.
Not a bad story either.
Hynes came on the Jays radar last year when they claimed him off waivers in August.
“He’s a guy we had interest in when he was traded over from San Diego to the Indians (in October of 2013),” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “Andrew Tinnish in our office (an assistant GM) is real high on him. We call him the president of the Colt Hynes fan club.
“It’s an interesting story. We just got him and didn’t know if we were going to keep him on the roster (40-man) and there was talk he may come off. Andrew sent out an e-mail. The title was ‘Save’ and when you opened it up there was an Indianapolis Colts logo and a Heinz bottle.
“But seriously, he gets ground balls, strikes guys out and the analytics department was pretty high on him too.”
He has options but he also has a good shot of sticking.