VIERA, Fla. - Dating back to the second half of last season, one of Davey Johnson's ongoing goals has been to convince Ross Detwiler to utilize more off-speed pitches while on the mound.
Detwiler has success largely because of his sinker, a biting two-seam fastball that hitters can't lay off, but often can do little with. It's Detwiler's bread and butter, and when the 26-year-old left-hander mixes the two-seamer with his hard, straight four-seam fastball, hitters have a hard time distinguishing between the two.
The problem, as Johnson sees it, is that Detwiler fell into stretches last season when he would lean far too heavily on his two fastballs, throwing them almost exclusively and failing to complement those pitches with anything off-speed.
While Detwiler had success last season in his first full big league campaign, Johnson feels the former first-round pick can take things to another level if he throws a few more curveballs and changeups, keeping hitters off balance and making his fastballs seem to speed up even a bit more.
Detwiler hears Johnson's advice, but is somewhat hesitant to stray away from the pitch that induced so many groundballs and awkward swings last year. Yesterday during his first live batting practice session of spring, however, Detwiler used his full arsenal, which pleased catcher Kurt Suzuki.
"He was throwing some good sinkers today. Nice and easy," Suzuki said. "The one pitch that was really good today was his curveball. He was throwing some really good breaking balls today. Everybody knows he throws a lot of sinkers, but he's been working some good curveballs, some good changeups. I thought he pitched."
During an eight-game stretch from July 17-Aug. 22 last season, a whopping 89 percent of Detwiler's pitches were fastballs, according to Fangraphs. There were back-to-back games, against the Mets and Braves in mid-August, in which Detwiler threw 162 pitches. Only seven of those were off-speed.
In his last seven starts of the regular season, however, Detwiler's fastball percentage dropped to 83.8 percent, and in his stellar outing against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Detwiler threw 80.3 percent fastballs, utilizing his curve 12.6 percent of the time and his changeup 7.2 percent of the time.
Yesterday, Detwiler mixed his pitches nicely. The hitters knew what was coming, so it wasn't as if Detwiler caught anyone off guard, but even still, he was able to work his curveball and changeup off of his hard two-seamer, resulting in a number of weak foul balls right at the plate.
Johnson and Suzuki feel that Detwiler's off-speed pitches are good enough to be effective. It's not as if he needs to work on heavily fine-tuning the pitches before implementing them in games. The issue is more that Detwiler needs to have confidence in his curve and changeup, which will allow him to throw those pitches in big spots as a change of pace.
"I don't think it's about developing, I think it's about trust," Suzuki said. "He's got it. It's there. It's just he needs to be confident when he's throwing it. I think toward the end of the year, he had more success with it, which allowed him to be more confident and it started to get better and better. And now, it's good.
"It's a good pitch for him to have, especially when everybody knows he's going to throw a lot of sinkers. But if he mixes in some off-speed pitches, I think it'll put him over the top."