Getting a grip on Dice-K's change

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This entry was posted on 2/27/2008 6:56 AM and is filed under uncategorized.

I've posted below a story I wrote for today that appears in the Boston Metro this morning, and details a key mechanical change for Daisuke Matsuzaka this season. Last year the Japanese import shied away from his devastating change up for long stretches of the season, and -- at the time -- Sox players and coaches attributed it to Matsuzaka losing his feel for the pitch.

At one point I had even heard that he was asking other Sox pitchers about their change up grips, and the pitch seemed to essentially be a buried weapon.

Well, apparently there was something else going on. The right-hander was "showing" the change up grip to hitters as the ball was leaving his hands, and batters were able to simply take the pitch and weren't tempted to swing at the offering as it darted out of the strike zone. Pay close attention to Matsuzaka's change up in the spring and his alteration to its release as it could be a big sign of his expected improvement in his second Major League Baseball season.

BTW, the reports by Rob Bradfordthat Freddy Garcia was in Fort Myers for a workout/physical this morning confirms what I've been saying all along: in this free agent market where there are a large number of veteran pitchers coming back from injuries and/or poor performance last season, the Sox should grab two or three starting arms that are currently in the low risk/potentially high reward category. It makes too much sense as insurance in case of injuries, or if any of the young pitchers (Lester, Buchholz mostly) should stumble or get overworked along the way.

Also, one more tidbit from Farrell about Daisuke's tendency to "show" his change up to hitters last season: "They could see the pitch a bit because as he was releasing the pitch he would get under it to give that screwball action [on the ball], so the first action out of his hand was almost up...and it was unlike every other pitch that he has. So hitters would back right off of it."

Here's the story from the Metro below:

Daisuke Matsuzaka’s change up suffered a disappearing act midway through last summer, but don’t expect the same unwanted mound magic trick this season.

A key for this campaign will be Matsuzaka’s ability to reintroduce his change up to an arsenal of pitches after the 27-year-old righty shied away from it during long stretches of last season.

Matsuzaka still enjoyed an outstanding rookie season, though, while adjusting to a new culture, a new country, and a new world of baseball en route to World Series glory and a top ten finish in the AL with 201 strikeouts.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder admitted to some fatigue at last season’s tail end, but managed to go 2-1 in the postseason while again mixing in his change of pace.

“I think near the end of the season last year, going into the playoffs and all the way through the World Series I was able to grasp a few points on my change up that were able to make a difference,” said Matsuzaka through translator Masa Hoshino. “I just hope that I can apply those early on this year.”

Sox pitching coach John Farrell further revealed that the Sox detected a slight difference in the changeup’s release that alerted batters to the identity of the pitch. Big league hitters were reading the screwball-like release that
Matsuzaka was putting on the baseball as it left his right hand, and were “spitting on” the pitch rather than chasing it out of the strike zone.

Armed with that knowledge and a year of valuable experience under his belt, Matsuzaka is expected to improve upon his 15-12 record and 4.40 ERA while sliding into the No. 2 spot in Boston’s rotation behind ace Josh Beckett.

“[The change] was detectable out of his hand early, so the fact that he has a pitch that’s more apt to be offered at means he has an added weapon,” said Farrell. “It’s an above-average pitch and because its usability has been improved it has got a chance to make him that much more effective.

“If it wasn’t thrown for a strike, hitters were reading it so early that they would take [the pitch],” added Farrell. “Now hitters are going to have respect the [change] a whole lot more.”

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