Adam Conley is not Jamie Moyer. He never will be. For one, his fastball is fast. For another, so is his changeup.
But after watching a video interview the former Mariner hurler gave about his ever-evolving changeup -- the pitch that has helped Moyer extend his playing career to its 25th year this season -- Conley was somewhat awed. No, it was more than that. The Olympia native was about to begin his third and final season pitching at hometown Washington State University in 2011, and he genuinely felt educated.
"One of the things he mentioned was keeping pressure on the inside of the ball instead of trying to manipulate the ball or force the action," Conley recalled. "Because there's less pressure on the outside of the ball the spin and the pronation and all of that will happen naturally based on your grip."
More than a year after Miami made him its second-round draftee, the Marlins No. 7 prospect has enjoyed a stronger grasp of his changeup -- and slider -- in the Minors. Winning seven of 10 decisions and accumulating a 2.78 ERA in 14 starts for Class A Greensboro earned him a June 24 promotion to Class A Advanced Jupiter. He won his Hammerheads debut three days later with five innings of one-run ball.
"It's funny because that was the big question mark on me," he said, "was the consistency of my secondary pitches and my whole life before then I had been throwing a changeup one way, and then I thought long-term and big-picture."
And like Moyer his pitching apprenticeship is not over.
"We throw a baseball so much that you just learn different pressure points and different ways to release a ball," he said. "If I want my changeup to dive, rather than just pronating, I can almost curl my fingers over the top of the ball. Because the axis and tilt of the ball changes a little bit, it dives more. And if my hand stays more flat and behind the ball and the pitch comes off my pinky, it's going to give it more of a side-spin than an end-over-end spin. Where I release the pitch might be the same, the pressure point might be the same, and to the hitter my arm speed and arm angle are the same -- but the way that the ball leaves my hand might be different.
"The other thing is we're human beings, so to do the same thing exactly the same twice in a row is impossible. What you can do is learn how to use that to your advantage and learn how to make the ball move in the way you want it to move. That's the process that will be ongoing for as long as there's baseball. Justin Verlander still works on the curveball. Nolan Ryan was still working on his repertoire when he was in his 27th big league season. It's a process that you can never perfect, and that's something I really love about the game."
MiLB.com asked Conley to describe and grade each of the three pitches he is employing. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Conley in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: I've played around with sinkers and different grips, but for the most part I've just held a four-seam, played around with pressure points and using pressure with different fingers to learn from the flight of the ball and the velocity of it.
Purpose: It really depends on the count or whether the hitter is left-handed or right-handed and what he's done in the past against me. Typically in a pressure count or on a pressure pitch I'll throw a fastball.
Grip: The only grip I really hold is four-seam, but to get the action I want I'll manipulate the ball to sink or run more. I can pronate it to give it two-seam action but I don't lose much velocity when I'm doing that.
Speed: Typically as a starter I'll be somewhere in the range of 92 miles an hour to 95. And on a good day I'll be around 96. And on a great day I'll be around 97. The 97 is a good indicator to me because it means that my arm is healthy and feels really good. But 94 is the best medium between me throwing it where I want with the action I want and the most velocity that I can accomplish that with. As a starter my velocity goes down. My fastball has potential to be much better if I know I have a shorter outing or if I know my pitch count is going to be lower. As a starter you have to conserve yourself to know there is more in the tank.
Grade: It's my best pitch and the pitch I throw the most. It's a big-time effort pitch. Right now it's 65 or 70.
Pitch two: Changeup
: I started throwing it when I was maybe 10 years old. It started off as a palm ball. I buried the ball in my hand as much as I could. Obviously you want your changeup to be slower than your fastball -- you want it to appear that way to your hitter -- so I just moved my arm really slow and threw a slower fastball pretty much. But over the years I learned how to throw it. Over time I have found new ways to make it fade away from the right-handed hitter or dive straight down almost like split-finger action or make it run away. I actually saw that interview with Jamie Moyer a couple of years ago, and he was talking about the progression of his grips on his changeup, and obviously Jamie Moyer is still trying to come back and play. But back in the day especially, he was always known for his changeup and how good it was and how effective it was even though he didn't have good fastball velocity -- most people would see his fastball velocity and scratch their head, thinking, 'How on earth did he get to the Major Leagues?' But that's what baseball players do: try to learn from each other's mistakes, successes or failures and go from there.
Purpose: I get a lot of swing-and-misses out of the zone, which is good, but I like to throw it in fastball counts so that the hitter will swing over it.
Grip: It's a fun pitch because I grip it very strangely. I hold the ball between my pinky finger and my ring finger so it's on the very, very end of my hand. It would be an understatement if I just said it's a feel pitch because that's a pitch you've got to throw a lot to throw it with those two fingers for strikes and have that kind of action to it. Right now the grip is pretty unique to me. The other day I was talking to Edgar Olmos, another left-handed pitcher for us with the Jupiter Hammerheads. He threw me a changeup -- it was the first time I ever played catch with him -- and it actually knocked my glove off. So I had to find out how he threw his changeup, how he got it to break that way. He showed me the grip and, just like mine, it was pretty crazy. I had never seen it before. That's just something we'll do -- teammates especially -- if one guy's got a great pitch, you want to go find out why his is great to help your own.
Speed: The big thing about the changeup is deception to the hitter. A lot of people would think that the bigger the separation in velocity between your fastball and changeup would always mean more success, but that's not always necessarily true because if your arm action or your arm motion or your hand speed changes during your delivery then, to the hitter, he's going to realize something is different. What makes a really good changeup is that it loses its velocity faster than your fastball loses its velocity, so if you can get it to come out of your hand looking like a fastball and get it to slow down faster than your fastball, you've got a pretty good changeup. So someone can throw his changeup eight miles an hour slower than his fastball and it can be great pitch, and someone else can throw his changeup 18 miles an hour slower than his fastball and it gets hammered because it's not fooling anyone. For me, my best fastball is 94, 95 miles an hour and my changeup is best when it's 82 miles an hour. As long as I maintain my arm speed and the fastball delivery that's going to be deceptive.
Grade: I really like the action of it. I really like the deception of it. The thing that I've been struggling with is throwing it consistently for a strike. 45-50.
Pitch three: Slider
: I threw a curveball when I was young, but I was throwing over the top because everyone tells you, 'Throw overhand,' and 'Injuries came from throwing sidearm or submarine-ing.' As I've gotten stronger, my arm slot has gotten more natural -- has lowered -- and that didn't really promote a good delivery for a breaking ball, at least a 12-to-6 curveball. Justin Verlander has that pitch because his arm slot is higher. I switched to the slider my freshman year of college
. I had never thrown it before in my life so it's been a struggle for me, but it's been a lot of fun to learn the pitch and seek success with it. When I first signed I worked with our pitching coordinator, Wayne Rosenthal
, in a minicamp at the end of the year in 2011 and all through Spring Training this year. And, after I broke camp and went to Greensboro with the Grasshoppers, Blake McGinley
was the pitching coach there and on flat-grounds and towel drills -- all those drills -- McGinley was helping me get out front and get the tilt on the slider. Now obviously in Jupiter I get to work with Joe Coleman
. He's been in baseball for something like 50 years
. He's a guy that when he opens his mouth everybody stops and listens because every word that that guy says might change your career. That's how much he knows about the game. The most crucial advice he's given me so far is on my slider. Sometimes to force the action of my slider I won't get all the way to my release point. I will rush to throw it. He keeps telling me to throw it like a fastball. That really helps me visualize the pitch.
Purpose: The Marlins organization as a whole would just like to see a consistent slider, something that I can throw for strikes, something that I have to make the hitter respect. He needs to know I can throw it for a strike because that will keep him on his heels. Sometimes I'll throw it early in the count to get a free strike or down the middle to a righty to get him to roll over it for a ground ball or double play. But ultimately in the big picture, the goal with the slider is to be able to throw it as a put-away pitch: like a back-foot slider to a righty or a down-and-away slider to a lefty. A lot of times if you watch me go and throw a game, you'll see a lot of 0-2 or 1-2 counts because there's no real pitch right now that just puts guys away unless the slider comes out right.
Grip: This is the one pitch that I hold pretty traditional. My middle finger runs right along the seam of the ball. My index finger rests right on top of it. It's like a typical curveball type of grip. The big thing for me to is to get it out front and make sure the pressure stays on my middle finger.
Speed: At the beginning of this year I was throwing it 83, 84 miles an hour. I didn't like the velocity -- I thought it was a serviceable velocity but to throw a great slider, I thought I would need it to be six to eight miles an hour off my fastball. So I started throwing it harder and now I'm now I'm the process of, with that velocity, finding the same release point, finding the same spin and tilt on the ball. Right now I am throwing it in the 85-to-87 range. Some of them come out harder. Some of them come out slower. Sometimes it comes out awesome. Sometimes it comes out pretty flat.
Grade: The grade overall is about 45. It has flashes of being my second-best pitch. I throw the slider more than my changeup and I have had success with it, but I want it to be more than serviceable -- I want it to be a plus pitch. The room for growth is really great.