Changeup is the key to Hoffman's success
PITTSBURGH -- Trevor Hoffman, baseball's career save leader with 498, is about to put the cherry on top. Sometime in the next week, he'll baffle a National or Dodger with a changeup and shake hands with his catcher in celebration of No. 500. The moment will be a tribute to longevity, consistency and Hoffman's ability to thrive while velocity-impaired.Too bad the poor guy can't find a teammate to play catch with him. Padres reliever Doug Brocail gave up last year after one too many brushes with the disabled list. Brocail was just returning from a coronary blockage, and he found that catching Hoffman's changeup was as pointless as chasing a fly without a swatter.
As Hoffman pursues the magic 500, the lack of buzz is palpable. It's due in part to ambivalence over the save, a statistic routinely derided as cheap by the media. When so many pitchers drive BMWs because they've put the clamps on 5-2 victories, skepticism naturally follows. That's the cold, clinical, purely statistical argument. In the real world, unsettled closer situations can undermine seasons and produce chaos in abundance. That helps explain why Boston kept Jonathan Papelbon, a 15-18 game-winner-in-waiting, in the bullpen this season. And just ask Cleveland fans how much fun it was watching Fausto Carmona finish games in 2006. "A lot of pitchers don't have the stomach for the role, but Trevor pitches with absolutely no fear," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He doesn't back down. He goes after the big boys, and he doesn't pitch around guys. He truly is the aggressor, and I think that's a great quality."
Hoffman has gone through various incarnations in San Diego. He once threw in the mid-90s, but hurt his shoulder in 1994 and learned to do more with less. He forever will be linked to the changeup in the same way Rivera has a claim on the cut fastball and Sutter is synonymous with the splitter. Since the changeup puts less strain on the arm than a split or hard slider, the pitch probably contributed to Hoffman's longevity. "The amazing thing is how goofy some hitters look," Brocail said. "If you watch video of Trevor and slow it down, I'd swear to God you'd think his changeup was a knuckleball. It's there and gone. See ya. Bye." With the exception of shoulder problems that limited him to nine innings in 2003, Hoffman has been remarkably durable. It's not by accident. Four hours before a game, you'll find him running in the outfield or doing stretching exercises with rubber tubing. He's usually clad in a light blue hospital smock that's practically welded to his body. It was big news in San Diego recently when Black used Scott Linebrink to close a game against Milwaukee because Hoffman had a "cranky'' shoulder, but Hoffman returned for two straight saves against the Brewers. He recorded No. 498 Thursday in Pittsburgh.
The amazing thing is how goofy some hitters look. If you watch video of Trevor and slow it down, I'd swear to God you'd think his changeup was a knuckleball. It's there and gone. See ya. Bye.
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