The Nationals sometimes see their prospects tip pitches in the minor leagues.
But the Nats prefer to let their young pitchers go for a while before they adjust anything. They do not like to mess with mechanics, approach or glove positioning early on. Instead, they let them get into a good rhythm, establish some confidence, build on success, then make the minor tweaks to prevent hitters from seeing patterns between the fastball and their off-speed pitches.
In the second part of our series, we examine how the Nats work with their younger pitchers when they see them tipping pitches.
“Got to be really careful how much information you give the young kids because they’re still learning how to control their body and throw strikes,” said Nationals pitching coach and former Nats minor league pitching coordinator Paul Menhart. “You got to find the right time. Bullpen sessions are good times, not necessarily to tell them you are tipping pitches, but to say, ‘Hey, let’s make sure that we are coming set the same way every time. Glove is in the same position.’ “
MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo remembers when he coached and how he dealt with pitchers who were tipping. Pitchers still have the advantage. From a hitter’s standpoint, even if they knew what pitch was coming, the hitter still isn’t necessarily biting. Santangelo said he taught his hitters to look for the pitch they want in their zone instead of just flailing away just because they know it’s going to be a fastball or a curveball.
“I think a lot of guys don’t like to know because there is a tendency to be overly aggressive and swing just because you know what’s coming,” Santangelo said. “So what I would tell guys is, ‘Hey, just because you know what’s coming, doesn’t mean we are swinging.’
“When I was a hitting coach in A-ball, too, we’d see it in A-ball every night. I would show these guys how to do it. The discipline comes to this: I know it’s a fastball, but I’m still looking for it middle away or middle in or low and in, and I’m not just swinging because I guessed right.
“A lot of times. guys will be overanxious - ‘I got the pitch, it’s a fastball’ - and it’s over your head and you swing. There has to be a discipline. ‘Oh, it’s a slider? I know it’s coming. (Remember) it’s not two strikes. I don’t want to swing at his nasty slider.’ Knowing what’s coming is good, but also sticking with your game plan and not swinging just because you know it’s coming.
“I think it’s the hardest part when somebody is tipping pitches, or when a guy relays you signs or pitches from second base. Just because you got the pitch doesn’t mean you swing at it.”
But Santangelo said if a hitter can differentiate between pitches, he then can eliminate a couple of pitches, which simplifies the at-bat.
“You are a four-pitch guy and I got two of your pitches; now you are a two-pitch guy,” Santangelo said. “Or I got all three of your off-speed pitches. Now you are a one pitch guy and I know fastball is coming. I don’t have to swing at your (nasty stuff) until I get to two strikes.”
Menhart said the Nationals saw something early on when Nats right-handed starter Erick Fedde was with him in the minor leagues. So they waited to make sure. Then they helped him.
“Fedde, for instance, was getting real low on his off-speed, high on his fastball (when) going to the plate out of the wind up,” Menhart said. “It could be a number of things. You try to make everything look exactly the same. I watched and saw it and I said, “I hope (the hitters) don’t see it.’ So I didn’t say anything to him during the game. (Then during) bullpen session, I said, ‘Let’s make sure that we are raising our glove to the same height on every pitch. You are getting a little bit lower on your off-speed pitches and I don’t want the other team to find that. So let’s just go ahead and work on that.’ “
Santangelo said when he was a player, sometimes he could see the pitches being tipped from his dugout spot.
“Falling into patterns, knowing what he did you the first time up,” Santangelo said. “If it was a lefty out of the stretch you could see it (from home dugout). Righties you got to be on the third base side. But they have so much video now. We didn’t have all the video they have. I could watch on video now and tell you what a guy is going to do.”
Menhart said tipping pitches is something hitters are always looking to try to decipher. So, as a pitching coach, he has always had to be on guard.
“Some guys can see different tensions in arms,” Menhart said. “Everybody is doing it. They’re always looking for it. And of course, when you are on second base, you can see the hand positioning in the glove. They are relaying it to the hitter. It’s been going on for ages.”
“If there’s mention he might be tipping, I’ll get (our video personnel) on it and we’ll watch different pitches and put them side-by-side and see if we can see anything. You try to make them do the same thing on every pitch.”
And that is how they help the pitcher see it himself. Put the video of their bullpen sessions side-by-side to see if they can see the pitcher do anything different between his fastball and his other pitches. Then they make sure the pitcher works to have every pitch look the same coming out of the glove.