OK, so there is this pitcher. He throws his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90-mph range. He uses his right arm to do it. He wears Washington Nationals colors. And nobody wants to see him shut down. His team is -- or was -- firmly entrenched in a pennant race.
Who is this pitcher?
Well, you probably already know from the headline that this is not another story about innings limits and protecting investments. So, no, we're not talking about Stephen Strasburg. We may -- if we can dream a little -- be talking about the next Stephen Strasburg. Despite the fact that, unlike his predecessor as the Nats' top-ranked pitching prospect, Alex Meyer doesn't deliver his similarly fast heater in straight, four-seam fashion.
"It really just had flat run on it, no sink, and I try to be a ground-ball pitcher as much as I can. My four-seamer was going to get a lot of fly balls," Meyer said. "It was 95-96 [mph], honestly a tick slower than my two-seamer."
That's pretty unusual, for a moving fastball to move faster than a straight one.
"That's what I thought, too, because one time I had a [radar] gun on me, and I realized it was coming out firmer," he said. "So then, 'If it's coming out harder with more action, I guess I should throw that more.'"
Meyer uses that word, action, a lot. Eight times, in fact, in this story alone. He'd like to think each of his three pitches -- he ditched the four-seamer but also mixed in an unusual breaking ball plus a typical changeup -- has that action. The numbers might confirm it: Meyer compiled a 10-6 record, a 2.86 ERA and a 139-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He did all this in 25 starts between Class A Hagerstown and Class A Advanced Potomac, finishing with 129 innings in his first pro season. (Meyer was placed on the disabled list on Aug. 26 to cap his innings there, costing him his final two starts. Perhaps as a result, the P-Nats, at 64-75, fell 1 1/2 games short of clinching a Carolina League playoff spot.)
"I feel like I'm going to need a four-seamer to come in on somebody hard, to be able to have a different look on the fastball," he said of his future repertoire (he is just 22). "I threw some of them this year, but not as many as I should have.
"The more advanced levels I move up, hopefully I pick it up. It's something I will work on this offseason, come back in six months and hopefully be ready to go with it."
MiLB.com asked Meyer to describe and grade each of the three pitches he was making this season. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Meyer, in his own words.
Pitch one: No-seam fastball
It's like a two-seam fastball, but I don't hold it over the seams. I started throwing it my last year of college ball. My agent, Bill Caudill
, actually helped me out with it. He's a former All-Star and pitched for the Chicago Cubs. He helped me out with it because I struggled with my four-seamer. I have a four-seamer -- I just don't ever throw it because it's a little flat right now. It's something I am going to have to work on. I can command the two-seamer a lot better this year than my first year. At times, I was sinking it too much or running it off the plate, but now I know where I need to start to get the certain action of it.
Purpose: When I throw it, I just try to throw it like a regular fastball, stay inside on it and get some sink and run on it. I feel like I can throw it at anytime because there is enough action on it to where they can't barrel it up like they would a four-seamer.
Grip: I hold a traditonal two-seam grip, roll it back to where none of my fingers are touching the seams, and I keep my fingers together on it.
Speed: 93-98 mph.
Grade: 70 -- I can throw it hard and have good action on it.
Pitch two: Knuckle-curve (Spike curveball)
I learned about it my freshman year of high school but didn't start throwing it until my junior year. My dad used to umpire high school baseball, and a kid that he had one night was throwing a really good breaking ball, and he asked him how he threw it, and the kid showed him. My dad just kind of passed it on to me. I was messing around with it as a freshman and it had really good action, but it was hard to control at the time. Finally, I got big -- my hands got pretty big -- so it was easier to throw it. I could really control it a lot better than I could the traditional curveball/slider grip.
Purpose: I try to use it as my swing-and-miss pitch. I get good action on it, it's a firm breaking ball. It looks like a fastball out of my hand.
Grip: I stick the fingernail of my pointer finger right in the middle of the seam when I wrap my middle finger to the inside of the seam. My thumb is tucked down underneath. When I throw it, I pull down with my middle finger and flick out my pointer finger.
Speed: It's been 89 mph, but I like to keep it 83-86.
Grade: 60 -- The action is really good. I just have trouble locating it at times.
Pitch three: Circle-changeup
I knew I needed to learn a changeup, and I started messing around with grips, whether it was a two-seam or a four-seam. It took me a while. I was struggling with it. Finally, I found this grip and started using it my last season at the University of Kentucky, when I was really forced to start throwing a changeup. This year, I used it a lot -- it wasn't like I was throwing one or two a game.
Purpose: In fastball situations, I like to throw it so guys just can't sit there and sit on a fastball. Also, once they see a third pitch, it changes everything throughout the whole at-bat because guys can't sit on one pitch, especially if I can throw my changeup 2-1, 1-0, whenever I am behind the count.
Grip: Traditional two-seam circle-change.
Speed: 87-90 mph.
Grade: 50 -- It's still a work-in-progress. I wouldn't say it's anything anybody is going back to the dugout and talking about, other than the fact than I throw it. But it is a pitch that's gotten better for me.