While meeting with reporters following his last start, when he held Oakland to one run in 6 1/3 innings, rookie Zach Britton explained how he found better results after moving from the third base to the first base side of the pitching rubber.
As a refresher, I give you the quote that I posted:
“I kind of moved over on the other side of the mound. I was on the third base side, went back to the first base side. And I felt like I had a little better action on my pitches. My slider was there today. I think moving to the other side of the mound helped me get a little bit better action on the slider, which came up big.
“It was something that Mark Connor saw in the ‘pen. He felt like I was losing life on my slider by being on the third base side. I had always pitched on the first base side. This year was the first time I moved over there. And we said, ‘Let’s go back over there and see how that works,’ and I felt like this allowed me to finish my pitches better today.”
Britton is being pushed back to Friday in Washington so the Orioles can control his innings and make sure he doesn’t reach his limit before the final month of the season. He’ll stay on the first base side of the mound for each one of those starts.
A few fans wanted Britton to expand on the reasons behind the move, so I approached him at his locker before a recent game.
Britton is always happy to engage a reporter in conversation, whether the notepad is in hand or in a back pocket. We’ve chatted about his venture into the Twitter world, Bryce Harper, the First-Year Player Draft and his brother Buck’s promotion to Double-A Bowie, among other things. His locker is the first one you pass when you walk through the clubhouse entrance, and he’s usually sitting in front of it, quick with a smile and a friendly greeting.
Britton did a nice job of breaking down all the reasons why his pitches are more effective on the first base side. He kept saying, “I’m probably not explaining it well,” and I’m thinking, “All that’s missing are diagrams on a chalkboard.”
“I don’t think people realize what a big adjustment that is,” he said. “It really is a big difference. You really gain a lot more of the plate and lose a lot more of the plate than you would think, and by moving over to the third base side, I lost the angle on my slider because you have very little room for error over there because you only have the middle third to throw that slider to, so hitters are able to see it as a ball easier and actually lay off of it. And that’s what they were doing. I hadn’t been getting strikeouts like I had been, so we decided to move me back over. And I feel like I have better command of my sinker on the other side.
“It’s just about finishing your pitches more over there. You can get lazy on the third base side as a left-handed pitcher because you have more room for error because I can miss a ball arm side and I’ve still got the middle of the plate.”
Expanding on how he regained the angle on his slider, Britton said, “If you’re a right-handed hitter and I’m on the first base side, when I release the ball, you see it as almost like an outside pitch. And when it comes back over as a slider, it’s harder to lay off a pitch that way. The hitter sees it for a strike longer, the slider on that side of the plate, which makes it more effective.”
Britton moved to the third base side last summer at Double-A Bowie, but pitching coach Kennie Steenstra warned the left-hander that he would lose his slider, which offsets the sinker.
“That’s a big thing for me to lose, but when we moved back over, I kind of gained that slider again,” Britton said. “I was watching video and the hitters were more fooled by the slider than they had been all year. And I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything on my changeup or my sinker. I’m making sure I’m finishing my pitches since I moved over. You can’t get lazy.”
Who knew that we weren’t seeing Britton’s best pitches over his first 12 starts?
“Goose (Connor) was like, ‘I want to see you back over there,’ because he had seen video of me over there,” Britton said. “He just wanted to see what would happen. And right when I got back over there, I felt real comfortable doing it.
“I guess to simplify it, it’s just about making the hitters think the ball’s a strike. Everything about pitching is deception, just making them think it’s somewhere it’s not. If they see that the ball’s a strike for longer before it goes out of the zone, it helps you. It’s all about for me, especially with movement, making sure they’re seeing the ball as a strike, rather than knowing right out of the hand that it’s a ball. And going over to the first base side helps me to kind of have them see the ball as a strike a little bit longer. It also allows me to throw my sinker on the outer half better, and that’s big, too.
“I feel like I’ve added another pitch to my arsenal, because I wasn’t throwing my slider as much. I should be getting more strikeouts now.”
That can’t be good news for hitters who already found Britton to be quite striking as a rookie.