VIERA, Fla. - Like manager Matt Williams, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr moved back and forth between Field 2 and Field 3 during yesterday’s workout, trying to watch a little bit of every pitcher’s live batting practice session just to see how everyone was looking.
He watched Stephen Strasburg pound the zone and locate four pitches, (including his new slider) on Field 2, then walked by me on his way over to Field 3 to catch a bit of Jordan Zimmermann’s session. I jokingly asked Knorr whether Strasburg had a chance to crack the roster this year.
“We might give him a shot,” Knorr deadpanned.
A few minutes later, I made my way over to Field 3 to watch Ross Detwiler’s live BP session. Knorr watched a dozen or so throws from the left-hander, then started to head back to Field 2 to look on as Jerry Blevins put in his work. This time, Knorr cracked a joke without me needing to set him up.
“We might take him, too,” Knorr said of Detwiler.
Strasburg and Detwiler both impressed onlookers yesterday, and not just with their established pitches. Strasburg’s slider looked good in its first test against real, live hitters, and Detwiler was able to try out a new pitch that he’s experimenting with, as well - a cutter.
Detwiler has always been a guy who relies heavily on his fastball. He mixes in a changeup and a curveball, but last season, 88 percent of his pitches were fastballs. By adding something new, Detwiler hopes to keep opposing hitters on their toes and mix it up a bit more.
“It’s just, give them another look,” Detwiler said. “I’ve been kind of having the same look the last few years. Now they know kind of what to expect. I want to try to throw something else out there.
“(Now) they can’t just sit on the fastball. They’ve got to think in the back of their mind (about) other things. I think that’s really going to help me when it comes down to being in a good count. Bad counts, it’s still going to be a fastball count. But if I’m a good count, then they have to think about three other pitches instead of just one.”
Getting a bit more technical, Detwiler’s sinking two-seam fastball has natural movement down and away from right-handed hitters. If Detwiler can develop enough of a feel for the cutter that he can use it in games, it will give him a pitch that moves in toward right-handed hitters.
Former Nats manager Davey Johnson desperately tried to get Detwiler to back away from the fastball a little bit and throw more offspeed pitches in order to keep hitters guessing. Williams says he won’t push Detwiler as much in that regard, especially if the left-hander can establish the cutter and effectively work it into his arsenal.
“I always look at it from a hitter’s perspective,” Williams said. “As a hitter, I want him to eliminate one side of the plate. So if I can eliminate him coming in to me as a right-handed hitter, I’m going to have more success. But if he can throw that cutter in there, then he’s equally effective on both sides and it just makes it more difficult for a hitter to square a ball up and feel comfortable.
“His sinker is a fastball and his cutter is a fastball, but it’s two completely different pitchers. Again, I always look at it from a hitter’s perspective and what I would feel like standing up there and him being able to throw that cutter in here, especially for a strike. If he can do that, then it opens up everything for him.”
Jhonatan Solano, who caught Detwiler during yesterday’s live BP session, said that it looked to him like Detwiler had been working on the cutter for some time, not that he had just added it this offseason. Solano noted that the cutter was diving in on the hands of right-handed hitters and sometimes dropping down towards their back foot, and said it could be a good pitch when Detwiler needs a groundball from a righty.
Another positive factor in regard to the cutter, Solano says, is that it looks just like both Detwiler’s sinking two-seam fastball and his four-seam fastball up until a certain point. They’re all thrown from the same arm angle and start off looking the same, but the two-seamer drops down and away from righties, the cutter moves in and the four-seamer stays relatively straight.
“The good thing of him is that the cutter, sinker and the fastball is pretty much the same velocity,” Solano said. “I think that’s very good because when you wait for a fastball and you say, ‘OK, fastball, fastball,’ and at the last second it’s cutting or diving away, that’s hard to hit. So I think that’s a good pitch for him this year.”
“Both (the sinker and cutter) start middle of the plate and then you have to commit,” Williams said. “You feel like, as a hitter, you feel like the ball’s going to sink away. That’s why the cutter’s so effective for left-handed pitchers in general. Especially for him, who throws the ball so hard. Very little time for somebody to react to it. So it’s a good pitch if he can control that ball in there.”
Here’s today’s quote of the day, written atop the morning schedule sheet: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”