- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Darvish had turned to Pierzynski from afar and motioned to him with both hands, taking his palms from his chest outward, toward his catcher, as if he were handing him a tray of food.
So Pierzynski asked him what he meant, and Darvish explained: I will follow you on pitch selection; you tell me what you'd like, and I will throw that. Darvish can throw about 3,000 different pitches, and sometimes he has something specific in mind, but sometimes he will gesture like that to Pierzynski, and the catcher will feel very good about the chances of Darvish executing that pitch.
Because Darvish -- like Jered Weaver, the guy he will go against tonight (8 ET) on "Sunday Night Baseball" -- is what is known in the business as a feel pitcher. He has an unusual feel for the baseball, the ability to manipulate its trajectory and its spin, with his arm and his fingertips. He'll throw each of his pitches at different speeds. During his near-perfect game against the Astros five days ago, Darvish came out of the bullpen without much command on a couple of his pitches, so Pierzynski just junked those and worked off the rest of the menu, relying instead on the cutters.
"The other day, it was like he has throwing a 92 mph fastball and a 95 mph split-finger," said Pierzynski. "He's more about areas -- he talked about where I set up. ... Instead of going with sinkers and four-seamers away, we started going more with cutters, and he was more under control. He threw a lot more curveballs the other day because that's what he had going."
Weaver goes off of feel as well. And his feel for the baseball has helped him cope with his decline in velocity. In 2008, Weaver's average fastball velocity was 90.4 mph, a career high, and it has steadily decreased:
2013: (first start) 85.8
On Saturday, Weaver said that he initially obsessed about the decline in velocity, and how he was going to respond in the way that he pitched. He had tried to develop a sinker and tried a number of different grips, without any luck.
But then former teammate Scot Shields showed his grip for a no-seam sinker, with his fingers placed in the middle of the horseshoe of the baseball, rather than over the seams. Some veteran pitchers will tell you this is an extremely difficult grip to master, because there are no seams on which the pitcher can anchor his fingers; the results tend to be inconsistent.
From the first time Weaver threw his sinker this way, however, it worked for him. Without it, he said, he can't imagine where he'd be in his career. This gives him a handful of weapons with which to work -- his sinker; his command; his unusual delivery, in which he seems to step directly at the right-handed hitter in a way that makes it appear as if he's throwing the ball right at them; his competitiveness; and his feel for pitching, as catcher Chris Iannetta explained.
Although Weaver has an usual delivery, Iannetta said, there isn't a lot of need for him to key in on a couple of reminders for Weaver's mechanics, because the pitcher has such an acute understanding of what he's trying to do with his body, and with the ball. "He's kind of his own pitching coach," Iannetta said.
• Weaver actually hadn't pitched a lot as an amateur, despite the success of his brother Jeff as a pitcher. But he started pitching late in high school, and he gained four inches in height in the summer after his senior year. That's when he began to get serious about pitching, he said Saturday.
• There was something interesting about the way Rangers manager Ron Washington spoke about Josh Hamilton on Saturday after Texas had intentionally walked Albert Pujols three times to get to Hamilton -- a highly unusual move. In the course of Hamilton's entire career, there had been only six instances in which the hitter in front of Hamilton had been intentionally walked, the last time on June 20, 2010, when Vladimir Guerrero was walked to get to Hamilton.
And on Saturday, the Rangers did it three times. Washington explained, "Hamilton is not swinging the bat well, we had some left-handers out there and we just went for the matchup each time, Each time we didn't walk [Albert Pujols], you seen what happened."
(Worth noting: Washington referred to him as Hamilton -- not Josh.)
To Washington's point, Pujols clubbed two homers Saturday, and Hamilton said he understood. "I think it was a smart move," said Hamilton. "Albert was dominating today, obviously. If I was in their situation, I would have done the same thing."
But as Hamilton stepped into the box after the second intentional walk was ordered, he had a wry smile on his face. I think if you gave truth serum to all involved, the Rangers would tell you they feel like this weekend is in Hamilton's head a little bit, having some understanding of how he thinks -- with all the booing and the intentional walks -- and Hamilton would tell you he knows his old teammates are trying to get into his head.
Hamilton's wife had called for extra security on Friday.
Johnny Football will be throwing out the first pitch tonight.
• Something you will see in tonight's game: Because of the speed and defensive ability of the Angels' outfielders, they will work to cover the outfield gaps in their positioning and give up the lines. Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel is responsible for the team's outfield defense, and he explained that the approach of most hitters will be to swing to the middle of the field -- and if a ball gets down the line, they're probably going to get a double anyway.
So you will see Hamilton and Mike Trout pinch toward the middle of the field to cut down the balls hit into the gaps. This happened a couple of times in Saturday's game.
• Speaking of positioning: Because Pujols' left heel has been hurting and he is not moving as well, he is much closer to the first base bag than he has been in the past, to ensure that he gets back to the base to take a throw.
News and notes
• Justin Upton has five homers in the first week of the season, and all five have come in two-strike counts: one on an 0-2 count, three on a 1-2 count and one on a 2-2 count.
The Upton brothers went crazy Saturday night, during and after the game, and this got the good folks at the Elias Sports Bureau going crazy:
From Elias: It is the first time in MLB history that two brothers homered for the same team in the same inning, with one homering to tie and the other hitting a walk-off home run. The previous time two brothers homered in the same game, with one hitting a walk-off home run and the other homering earlier in the game, was on July 12, 1962. The Uptons are the fourth pair of brothers to hit home runs as teammates in the same inning; Paul and Lloyd Waner did it twice, Hank and Tommy Aaron once and Cal and Bill Ripken twice.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Rockies and Dodgers exchanged overpriced spare parts.
2. The Yankees could learn something from the Red Sox in their approach to free agency, writes Joel Sherman.
3. Rob Biertempfel has some advice for Pirates owner Bob Nutting.
4. The Marlins called up a catcher.
From Elias: Rios belted a two-run homer off Felix Hernandez on an 0-2 count. Over the previous five seasons, Hernandez surrendered only one home run on an 0-2 count, to Adrian Beltre on Sept. 18, 2011.
11. The Diamondacks are rolling.
Not much went right for the Marlins, from a malfunctioning phone to a controversial call.
You have to wonder if Carlos Marmol's time as the Cubs' closer is drawing to an end, after he gave up two big home runs on Saturday.
The Pirates continue to struggle for offense, badly.
John Farrell has taken his shift to Boston. Don't expect the Blue Jays to do the same under John Gibbons, writes Brendan Kennedy.
Once again, the Red Sox struggled against a lefty.
The Yankees' pitching continues to get knocked around.
The Tigers may have found their closer, writes Lynn Henning.
A Royals reliever looks like another Tommy John success, writes Bob Dutton.
Pujols says his contract won't be a drag on the Angels. Interesting story by Mike DiGiovanna.
Felix Hernandez is just short of a milestone.
• Charles Ebbets used all of his connections to get his ballpark built, writes Bob McGee.
• The Dodgers' owners have distanced themselves from Frank McCourt's charities.
• A couple of big-time Seattle prospects are getting to know each other, Mike Curto writes.
• Vanderbilt took the second game of its series at Ole Miss; the Commodores (28-4) go for the sweep today.
• A dying fan got a gift from the Tigers.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney explains how both Yu Darvish and Jered Weaver use feel as pitchers and the ability to manipulate the trajectory and spin of the ball to their advantage. Plus, news and notes from around baseball.