Throwing inside to knock a player off the plate or to try to get an inside strike used to be part of the game of baseball, but now it seems like nobody wants to do it anymore.
And I think I finally figured out why...they can’t.
For some reason a guy can throw any pitch to any part of the strike zone he wants almost at will, however you ask him to go inside and all kinds of crazy, ridiculous things happen.
I used to think that the pitchers did not want to get what I call “Mussinad”—where the player who gets hit with the pitch charges the mound and beats the heck out of you in front of 40,000 people, not to mention everyone watching on T.V. or now on the Internet.
However, after watching two incidents in the past week or so, I am positive that throwing purpose pitches is an art and just like with any other form of art—some got it and others don’t.
The first was when the Angels took on the Texas Rangers last Saturday. The night before, Rangers second basemen Ian Kinsler hit two home runs to beat Los Angeles.
So, on Saturday Angels starter John Lackey decided to take care of Kinsler himself.
Kinsler, the lead-off hitter for Texas, stepped up to the plate and quickly had to dodge out of the way as the first pitch from Lackey came in high and tight. Kinsler got back up, dusted himself off, and quickly hit the dirt again as the second pitch came for Kinsler—this time Lackey hit his target.
The umpires threw Lackey out of the game for intentionally throwing at a hitter.
First off, this was a stupid move by Lackey—you want redemption, throw one inside. You miss...you miss, move on to your next pitch and try to get him out.
Second, how do you miss him?
Sure you can blame it on it being Lackey’s first start of the season and maybe his control was not all there yet, but still...would Nolan Ryan miss?
How about Roger Clemens?
Just ask Robin Ventura and Mike Piazza, they will tell you that they would not.
The other game that helped make me realize was the Friday night game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees.
A.J. Burnett was on the mound for the Yankees and gave up a lead-off home run to Jimmy Rollins. Upset, Burnett fired the next pitch at the head of Chase Utley.
Luckily for Utley, he was able to throw his arm in the way of the pitch, and he was fine.
In the bottom of the inning, Phillies starter Bret Myers was after redemption. The first pitch Myers threw in the game was aimed behind Derek Jeter, about waist high.
The pitch missed and then Myers threw a fastball down the middle to Jeter, and the Yankee Captain belted it to left field for a lead off single.
I had two problems with how Myers handled the situation, and neither of them had to do with the fact that he was throwing at Jeter.
The first problem is that the pitch was waist high.
Now of course nobody wants to see players get seriously hurt, which could be the case with a pitch at the head. However, you are not going to intimidate anybody or get taken seriously if you are hit in the rear end.
Yes it hurts, but how many times (when it does happen) do you hear one of the broadcasters say something like, “If you have to get hit, that’s where you want to get hit.”
If it’s a place you want to get hit, then how bad can it really be?
The second thing that bothered me with Myers' actions (again, other than that the pitch was at Jeter) was the second pitch was practically put on a tee for Jeter, who promptly laced the ball past Rollins at short and into left for a hit.
If Myers wants to protect his players, he should take a few cues from guys like Pedro Martinez who know how to throw inside. Anyone can say many things about Pedro Martinez, but nobody can deny that Pedro was as good as it gets at throwing inside at people.
Now, I think general managers, team presidents, and managers should ensure that they have at least one pitcher (starter or reliever) that will throw inside and intimidate hitters.
Right from the minors on up they should be hiring pitching coaches (not necessarily the main pitching coach, but maybe the bullpen coach or make it a new position) to teach pitchers how to throw inside and intimidate.
Similar to left-handed pitchers, you can have an intimidator. Hockey is already doing this by having one goon on the bench that is signed just to protect the top goal scorer on his team. This would keep the other team from intentionally throwing at your guys, otherwise they know the consequences will be to bring this guy into the game to drill somebody on the other team.
This would bring more strategy into the game as well as keep pitchers in the league. Think about some closer who just cannot end games anymore (Eric Gagne comes to mind) but can still throw, who could stay in the majors because someone will keep him on as the intimidator.
Of course there is no way baseball will ever encourage this.
If any face of baseball (Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia, Albert Pujols, and Joe Mauer just to name a few) gets hurt, it could kill the sport in certain towns especially if it’s a player like Pujols.
Without the player, the team would not draw any fans.
So, since “The Intimidator” is a long shot at happening, I guess I could just part with saying if you are a pitcher...learn to throw inside.
I am sure if you call up Clemens or Martinez they will have no problem flying out to teach you how to do it. Or, be like Mike Mussina and do not throw at anybody.
One or the other, do not keep failing because you want to do both.