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April 25, 2009 at 4:42 PM

Mariners slugger Ken Griffey Jr. says hi to Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart

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Figured that on draft day, since the Mariners were too busy preparing for the game to follow much of the goings-on on TV, they’d just bring a former first-round pick for everyone to meet. Actually, Cards’ backup QB Matt Leinart was here playing host to some youngsters down on the field and wanted Griffey to come over and meet everyone, so the Mariners’ DH obliged.
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By the way, I had a nice chat with Shawn Kelley about the splendid 2 1/3 innings of shutout work he did last night after coming on to replace Erik Bedard. One of the things Kelley has been successful at, both in the minor leagues and in limited time up here, has been getting lefthanded batters out.
Kelley has given up only three hits to the dozen lefties he’s faced so far — meaning a .250 battiong average against. Versus righties, he’s given up four hits to 14 batters, a .286 average against.
Being able to work to lefties is a huge bonus in a Mariners bullpen that has no southpaw pitchers at the moment. So, I asked Kelley his secret and he told me it’s being able to throw his fastball to both sides of the plate.
“If you can command your fastball to both sides of the plate and mix in your pitches, he said. “It’s the same thing. Lefties have weaknesses just like righties. So, you just make your pitches, stay down in the zone and go to work.”
That’s the typical answer you get when righties talk about pitching to lefties successfully. Sounds a little too simple for me, though, since these are the major leagues. Most pitchers up here know how to spot their pitches to both sides. So, Kelley went a little deeper into the subject when I pressed him.
“One of the things that helps me is the ability to pitch inside,” he said. “it’s just something that i pride myself in doing and I do it a lot.”
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Not every pitcher, believe it or not, can throw inside effectively. It’s an art form of sorts. You don’t want to throw at the hitter. Just back them up at times. Or put the ball where only the quickest bats in the game can get around on it. That takes work, and a little fortitude.
“I work on it,” he said. “To be able to work lefties in and not have to stay away…with my slider, I’ve always had a lot of confidence with it to lefties. I haven’t always becessarily had to go to my change-up, running away from them. Because I’m able to do some different things with my slider, whether it’s backdoor, or inside on the back foot. So, when you feel confident about two good pitches, to either side of the plate, working up and down, I think you’ll have success. And that’s what’s always helped me with lefites, it’s my slider.”
So, how does he work on busting hitters inside.
Simple, he gets guys to stand there as targets of sorts. Sometimes, bullpen coach John Wetteland will do it. Other times, his teammates will stand there and track the ball as it comes across the plate. Thing is, the teammates and Wetteland aren’t dumb. They aren’t going to put the proverbial apple on their head and see if Kelley is able to hit his target. So, they don’t dig in the same way hitters would in a game. But Kelley figures if he does enough work on the side, it won’t matter how close to the plate the hitter stands during a game.
“It sounds kind of cheesey, but you just have to not think of the hitter being there when you’re trying to make your pitch,” he said. “You can get in a bullpen and throw to both sides of the plate easy, but all of a sudden a batter gets in there and it’s tough to throw inside. But you see your catcher’s mitt, you see your spot and you just try to drive the ball in there. And that’s what I try to do when I go in.”
Interesting stuff.
By the way, as for Franklin Gutierrez getting a seat tonight, Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said it’s a matter of giving him a rest, Gutierrez is hitting just .196 with a .595 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, but had been playing good defense.
“Right now, I’ll play him in center every chance I can,” Wakamatsu said. “I think he’s a guy who understands there are some mechanical things in his swing that he’s going to have to address. We’ve talked. (Hitting coach) Alan (Cockrell) has had some good talks with him. And he’s going to continue to improve on those things. He’s a big part of this club, especially defensively. But I’ve also seen some things he can do in spring training. If he stays to the right-center gap, he can be pretty effective.”

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