Eddie Gamboa on being a “hybrid” pitcher

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles clubhouse is closed to the media this morning because players are meeting with officials from Major League Baseball. Reporters will have access to them after the workout.

Another group of pitchers warmed up on the side mounds yesterday and threw inside the covered batting cage. It won’t be much longer before they’re throwing live batting practice, with hitters taking their cuts.

We’re getting closer to the exhibition games, which gets us closer to the ones that really count.

Knuckeballer Eddie Gamboa had his mound session yesterday, but not until checking twice to make sure catcher Ryan Lavarnway didn’t need a bigger mitt. Lavarnway kept saying, “No, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” Gamboa asked, starting to walk toward the clubhouse to get the larger leather.

One of the Orioles coaches reminded Gamboa that Lavarnway as a rookie used to catch Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Gamboa laughed and expressed relief, saying that Wakefield’s floater is much better than his own.

gamboa-orange-tides-sidebar.jpgThe pitch is still a work in progress for Gamboa, 30, who signed a major league deal with the Orioles on Dec. 3 and landed on their 40-man roster for the second time. He was a minor league free agent and drew interest from several clubs impressed by his results in the Mexican Winter League. The Orioles offered the major league contract to keep him in the organization.

“It was a good feeling,” he said yesterday. “I’m 30, so it doesn’t happen very often for 30-year-olds to have a lot of interest. Age is a factor. Who’s to say there’s no 18-year-old who can do what I do? But that’s the whole thing about trying to be different, trying to be unique, throwing a knuckleball, being kind of a hybrid. But I feel that with the experience that I have, I know how to pitch, I feel comfortable with it and now it’s just going out there and trying to prove it.”

Hybrid is the right word to use when describing Gamboa’s pitching style. He isn’t exclusively a knuckleballer, preferring to use it about half the time while mixing in a low-90s fastball, cutter and changeup.

“I’d say I’ve dropped back down to 50-50, but it’s more for control base - having control of the game, the run game,” said Gamboa, who was a combined 5-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 19 games between Double-A Bowie (five) and Triple-A Norfolk (14) last season.

“I feel a lot more comfortable having all those weapons with me as opposed to just the knuckleball. I know that one day I’ll have to get used to just throwing a bunch of knuckleballs up there and I’m sure my arm will get tired. Age obviously is a factor, but comfort is probably the biggest thing. The more I throw it, the better I’m going to be with it. If I could throw all of them for strikes, I wouldn’t throw anything else but that. That’s all it is is being comfortable and trusting it as best that I can at the highest level of baseball. I’ve never been in the big leagues and Triple-A for me is the highest that I’ve ever been, so that’s the highest that I’ve been able to get to.

“There were a couple games I was able to throw 90 percent knuckleballs at the Triple-A level, but on a weekly basis can I do it? I think I can, but I know that I could go out there every day with conventional and kind of hybrid mode with knuckleballs and compete every day with that.”

Gamboa was throwing 80 percent knuckleballs by the end of last season “because we made him,” said manager Buck Showalter.

“Right now, the biggest problem is his fastball is too good and his secondary stuff is too good because he can pitch with it, especially when the hitters have got that in the back of their minds. So that’s good and bad,” Showalter said. “He still throws 90-92 with a breaking ball he can throw for a strike. The common denominaters that you look for in knuckleball pitchers who have been successful in the past, he carries them. That’s one of the reasons why we did it.

“He reverts back to the knuckleball when he has problems with the other stuff, but as a knuckleball pitcher you’ve just got to keep it in your hand to get a feel for it. And it’s better. I can tell the knuckleball’s better. He’s got a good one.”

Gamboa knows the Orioles want him to rely more on the knuckleball, but the subject hasn’t come up with Showalter this spring. It figures to happen at some point.

“Based on what I was able to do in winter ball and a little last year, like when I got the no-hitter two years ago (at Bowie), it was 50-50. That’s what felt comfortable to me,” Gamboa said.

“It brings down the walks. I don’t like walking people. I’ve never in my career liked walking people, and with knuckleball it’s very difficult. Just trying to stay strong with it and trying to compete and hopefully good things can happen for me.

“I’ve been working on everything. Trying to get more late movement with the fastball, always tweaking the cutter and trying to make it the best I can. The changeup I think was the pitch that got me to professional baseball, so I trust that a lot. And obviously the knuckleball, which is something I get to work on every day, try to perfect it and try to get more comfortable throwing it every pitch for strikes. Once I get that down, I feel really good about it this year. I have some winter ball experience under my belt and now it’s just going out there and competing. I’m ready to go.”

Gamboa wasn’t ready to leave, staying with the only organization he knows.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It could have been easier to sign as a free agent or it could have been easy to go somewhere else and play. Or independent ball. There’s all these options. This was the best-case scenario for me.

“I’ve been an Oriole my whole career since 2008, I know everybody, I feel comfortable here, they know what I can and cannot do. This is probably the best-case scenario for me and I was happy to come back and just try to take advantage of this opportunity that I have in front of me.”

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