Living legend Vin Scully isn't the only broadcaster to say that the lefties and righties he covers are making
pitches, not throwing
them. But Scully does this more frequently than his peers. Tune into the Dodgers on TV, and there he is describing Clayton Kershaw make (as if out of nothing) a fastball or Chad Billingsley make (literally with his own bare hand) a curveball. Whether Scully is aware of it or not -- he said through a team spokesman that he was not -- his verb choice gives us the sense that pitching is a lot like painting, the act not altogether different from art.
"I can understand the broadcaster saying that," said Cubs hurler-in-the-making Trey McNutt. "As the catcher puts down that sign, wherever he sets up, I want to throw to that area to make that pitch. It doesn't have to be spot-on. I don't want to try to hit the glove."
As in the abstract, McNutt is saying, this process is not exact. Unfortunately, Chicago's seventh-ranked prospect has been far from spot-on himself. Southern League batters are batting .266 against him, and he's posted a 55-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio unbefitting his powerful repertoire. After 17 starts, his last eight appearances have come out of the bullpen, where he pitches more often but with less time to introduce his secondary offerings to opposing hitters.
"I've got all the pitches. It's just a matter of throwing them for strikes on a consistent basis. That's the reason I'm in Double-A now," the Birmingham, Ala., native said, not long after playing in his 50th game for the Tennessee Smokies over the last three seasons. "When I get to where I can throw the pitches for strikes whenever I want to, I'll have it made."
Nice verb choice.
MiLB.com asked McNutt to describe and grade each of the four pitches he makes. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is McNutt, in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: I go inside to lefties with it and elevate it to both lefties and righties.
Grip: Traditional four-seam.
Speed: 90-96 mph. Some days it comes out better than others.
Pitch two: Two-seam fastball
: I picked it up this year. I used to throw it every once in a while but this year I use it a lot for the movement. With the two-seam, the hardest thing for me to learn is to make sure I kept my fingers on top of the ball -- where you can get that late movement that you want -- or it will just do the same thing as a four-seam. It also helps me avoid blisters because I'm not cutting all four seams on every pitch.
Purpose: I like to throw it low and away to lefties to try to get them to pull off. I also like to throw it middle-in to righties, have it ride in on 'em.
Grip: It's kind of weird because I throw it different than others. I put my index finger on the inside of the horseshoe -- on the far left side -- and then my middle finger is on the middle of the ball in between the two seams.
Speed: 89-92, 93 mph.
Pitch three: Changeup
: I never really threw a changeup until my first full year of pro ball, in 2010. I learned it at Class A Peoria and started focusing on it at Class A Advanced Daytona. Figuring out where to put my fingers and how to keep my arm speed up and still taking something off of it was the biggest thing. It took about me about three weeks to get down. This year is probably the most I have ever been comfortable with it. I worked on it all offseason in the Arizona Fall League. It's the toughest pitch to learn because it's a "feel" pitch.
Purpose: I don't want to slow my arm-speed, but I still want to take some speed off the ball to confuse the hitter.
Grip: Traditional four-seam, circle-change.
Speed: 82-84, 85 mph.
Pitch four: Slurve
: I actually picked that up during springtime at Shelton State (Ala.) Community College. It's something my teammate, Johnny Shuttlesworth
, taught me when I was having trouble with my breaking ball. I started throwing it and, after about a month, it became a nasty pitch for me. I kind of lost it at the start of this year, but I'm starting to find it. It's real sharp right now, so I'm happy about that.
Purpose: It's my swing-and-miss pitch when I throw it right.
Grip: I can't explain that grip. It's too weird. I'd have to draw you a picture of that one.
Speed: 79-84, 85 mph.