Playful pitches

Doug Gulasy

KSU pitchers use ingenuity to baffle hitters

The home team is up by one run. The visitors have runners on the corners with two outs.

Perspiring, the home pitcher looks to his catcher for the sign and nods when he receives it. He heaves a 3-2 pitch the batter isn’t expecting; the batter swings uneasily, feeling like he doesn’t know what he got himself into.

It happens all the time in baseball – pitchers keeping hitters off balance with a smorgasbord of pitches.

The most unique pitch in recent years is the mythical “gyroball,” a supposedly unhittable pitch developed by a Japanese scientist and baseball instructor. Some say Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka throws it, although Matsuzaka denies it.

“I think he wants to emulate a slider,” Kent State junior pitcher Reid Lamport said. “He spins it as the same spin as a slider, except it goes straight and it’s about the same speed. So when hitters see it, they think it’s a slider, but it just goes straight, so it fools them.”

Some Kent State pitchers have developed their own unique pitches.

Sophomore Chris Carpenter, a hard-throwing right-hander, said his most unique pitch is his changeup.

“Most people throw a circle change, where they touch their index and thumb,” Carpenter said. “I just hold on, usually with my ring finger, my fourth finger and my index, and just kind of leave everything else dangle.”

Carpenter credits Kent State pitching coach Mike Birkbeck for teaching him the pitch. He said he throws it the same way as Birkbeck, who spent parts of six years pitching with the Brewers and Mets.

Carpenter said his changeup keeps opposing hitters “off balance,” because it’s about 8-12 miles per hour slower than his fastball, which he considers his best pitch.

“The changeup would be (thrown) sometimes if I’m down in the count and want to kind of pitch the guy backwards,” Carpenter said. “(I’ll) try to get him off balance if he’s setting up for a fastball or something . try to get him to ground out or be in front and pop out or something like that.”

His pitching philosophy has seemingly worked well. Carpenter (1-0, 2.38 ERA) has held the opposition to a .118 batting average this season.

Lamport (0-1, 2.67 ERA) said his most unique pitch is his two-seam fastball, which he said he patterns off Chris Carpenter (the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace, not his teammate).

“It’s just like your fastball, except it has more movement,” Lamport said of his two-seamer. “It drops at the last second, so it gets hitters to ground out.”

He said he often uses his two-seamer when he’s looking for a double play.

While he acknowledged that plenty of pitchers throw two-seam fastballs, he said the pitches differ, depending on the amount of movement.

“For a pitcher to have it move more, I’d say it’s an advantage,” Lamport said. “Because hitters see it, but when you have more movement, they think it’s not going to move as much, so it’s tougher for them to hit.”

Sophomore southpaw Alan Morrison (1-0, 6.10 ERA) utilizes two out pitches: a changeup and a “little cut fastball.”

“My changeup is a circle change,” Morrison said. “It moves away from right-handed hitters and down, so I kind of spin it inward and it dives away and down.”

“My little cut fastball, I usually just throw it as hard as I can, but it starts off like a regular fastball and at the last minute, cuts in real sharp.”

Morrison said these pitches are the type used to “put a hitter away” with two strikes. Unique pitches, Morrison said, give pitchers an advantage, as they add a “surprise factor” if the hitters haven’t seen them.

Though no Kent State pitcher throws anything as unique as the gyroball, it doesn’t mean they aren’t as creative as the inventors of the spinning wonder.

“I’d invent a 20 mph pitch that you just loft up there,” Morrison said. “And then you come back with, like, a 90 mph fastball – I think that’d be hard to hit. Same windup, same everything. I’d call it ‘The Rainbow.'”

Contact sports reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].