Baseball Betsy’s favorite sports movie is Major League. She does a great impression of manager Lou Brown in the movie telling Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn to “Forget About The Curve Ball Ricky, Give him the heater”. It was Saturday night in Dunedin against the Blue Jays and it was the Clearwater Thresher’s pitchers gving them the heater. First it was starter Austin Wright with his fastball sitting at 93 mph on the Dunedin scoreboard even in the bottom of the sixth inning. Then came Ryan Duke out of the pen with his 92 mph heater and finally to close it out for a two inning save it was Hector Neris with his 93 mph heater.
The heat of the Thresher’s staff was in stark contrast to the soft tossing of the Dunedin Blue Jay’s staff. Last night we were at Dunedin as well to watch the Blue Jays play Ft. Myers. The big left-handed starter for Dunedin was throwing a fastball at 84 mph most of the night. We call it soft tossing which is not a complimentary word fans use to describe pitchers. The Blue Jays pitchers tonight had a little more velocity but nothing to match the heat of the Threshers staff.
Of course the fastball in the low to mid 90’s is not a guarantee of success. Austin Wright struggled much of the night even though he upped his record to 5-0 because he could not locate his off speed pitches. Ryan Duke almost walked in a run because he was nibbling with his fastball just off the plate. Hector Neris was the most impressive of the trio because he was able to command both his fastball and slider on the corners of the plate and at the knees of the batter. No batter at any level would have had a chance against Hector Saturday night with the stuff he showed in the 7-5 Clearwater win
It was not always like this for pitchers in the Phillies organization. Just a few years ago the Phillies system lacked power arms. I remember visiting Lakewood two years ago where one of the top reliever on the team at the time was hitting only 88 mph on the stadium radar gun. Even though he was effective he is no longer in the system. Jamie Moyer was in the Phillies starting rotation just two years ago with his then 82 mph fastball. The reports yesterday said his fastball is now at 80 mph for the Colorado Rockies. Still it is the fastest 80 mph fastball thrown by a 49 year old anywhere in baseball. Pitcher still have to put movement on the fastball with the cutter and change speeds and eye levels with the change up and slider to be effective. Always remember it’s rare a pitching coach can teach more heat but he can coach up more movement, control and command for a pitcher.
Most of us who follow baseball are fans of power arms and the long balls. We fans may not remember who won the Cy Young but we do remember which pitchers can throw the heaters. We go to games to watch the long balls not the Texas Leaguers or the Baltimore Chops. The Phillies system seems to be doing a great job in developing power arms but are in a desperate need of someone, anyone, who can have a break out season with a long ball bat. As Ryan Howard proved they are the ones who get the big bucks even if they struggle to do anything else.