Pedro knows close shaves
Pedro Martinez is among the few pitchers who utilizes the inside part of the plate. And it's made him dominant.
Dave Stewart was known for his cold-blooded stare, which could strike fear into a hitter. But Stewart's stuff could be as intimidating as just about any pitcher in his era.
Others threw harder, of course. But after getting battered around for a half dozen big-league seasons, during which he was traded twice and released once, two things turned Stewart into the beast who won 20 games four years in a row for Oakland.
Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan encouraged Stewart to use the split-finger fastball that Doug Rader and others had told him to stop screwing around with. And Stewart grew up as a pitcher once he started to use the split-finger, allowing himself to throw his 94-mph fastballs in on the hands of hitters.
Sometimes even an elbow.
"When I was starting out, for years there, I tried to get along with guys,'' said Stewart, who was then trying his hand as a pitching coach. "I didn't want anybody to think I was throwing at them, especially the guys with the big reputations. But after you get your butt kicked long enough you figure it out -- either that or you go home. A lot of guys go home. A whole lot of guys, and I didn't want to be one of them.
"These hitters are good, damn good. If you're going to get them out, you have to have every inch of the plate. They have to know that you'll throw your best stuff in on their hands so they'll think twice about leaning out there and hitting one off the wall. And, yeah, it probably doesn't hurt to throw one every now and then that starts on their hands and runs into their ribs. Not their heads, but their ribs or their butt.''
Old-timers like Bob Feller, Bob Gibson and even Nolan Ryan often lament that pitching inside is a lost art in the modern game. But some guys still do it -- and scores more would be better off if they learned how.
"The one guy who comes to my mind right away is Pedro [Martinez],'' one scout said. "He's been doing it for years and years. Just never cared what anybody thought about it. He was doing it. And I'm not exactly sure who else you would put on this list, but I do know this: You're going to take a look at it when you're finished and see that you're talking about some of the best pitchers in baseball. The guys that do it are all very successful guys.''
This is not a new trend. Witness one of baseball's great nicknames -- Sal "The Barber'' Maglie.
Coaches could do worse during spring training than to block an afternoon off for their pitchers to watch highlights of the 1965 World Series. It featured two of the best at owning the inside part of the plate -- the Dodgers' Don Drysdale and Minnesota's Jim Kaat. Guys like Sandy Koufax, Claude Osteen and Mudcat Grant didn't hesitate to knock guys off the plate, either.
"That was the way the game was played back then,'' said Joe Nossek, a long-time major league coach who played for Minnesota that season. "We hadn't started wearing helmets, either, just those little inserts that went in the cap. Drysdale was notorious for knocking you down. ... As a hitter, you had to get it out of your mind -- the fear factor -- or you weren't going to last long.''
The 1965 Series went the full seven games, with the Dodgers winning Game 7 on Koufax's three-hit shutout. The teams combined for 44 runs overall. The Twins, who had Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Zoilo Versalles in their lineup, hit .195.
Earlier in his career, Drysdale had led the National League in hit batters four years in a row. It helped him establish the reputation behind his 25-win season in 1962 and 23-win season in '65.
Drysdale put fear into batters with his overpowering fastball. But sometimes pitchers work inside because they don't have an overpowering fastball.
Behind Martinez, the active pitcher mentioned most often for knocking hitters off the plate is Greg Maddux, who has never been described as intimidating.
"Using the inside part of the plate is one of the things that has made him so good,'' a scout said of Maddux. "Watch how many of his pitches are on the inside part of the plate, then check out the guy pitching against him. Greg is going to have two or three times as many in guys' kitchens. And you know he has that pinpoint control, so it's almost never an accident when one comes in a foot off the plate.''
|“||Pedro just treats hitters with contempt. That's the thing that has always made him Pedro. ”|
|— A scout|
Like Stewart, it seems Maddux learned the hard way. After going 37-20 in 1988 and '89, his second and third full seasons with the Cubs, hitters grew a little more comfortable against Maddux. He went a combined 30-26 the next two seasons, with earned run averages about a half a run higher than in '89.
Maddux had hit only four batters with pitches in 1990, and six in '91. But he was either unusually wild or just a little meaner in '92. He hit 14 batters, a telling jump considering his wild pitches did not increase along with the hit batsmen. He also won 20 games, held batters to a .210 average (down 55 points from two years earlier), cut his ERA to 2.18 and picked up the first of his four consecutive Cy Young Awards.
Then there's Martinez. In his greatest season, with Boston in 2000, he hit 14 batters and had exactly one wild pitch. Hitters couldn't seem to get their at-bats over with that season, waiting out only 32 walks in 217 innings. Their aggressive approach resulted in a .167 batting average and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
"Pedro just treats hitters with contempt,'' a scout said. "That's the thing that has always made him Pedro.''
And what do you know? They're all making a good living.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.
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