Well, I guess the secret’s out. That’s right, one of the major weapons in Jarrod Washburn’s arsenal tonight, besides his outfielders, was something catcher Rob Johnson calls a “Dolphin” curveball. Washburn used to call it “The Flipper” but hey, it works both way since it involves swimming mammals and their body parts.
The idea is that the slow, looping pitch literally “flips” out of his hand, sort of like dolphins that leap from the sea.
How big was it tonight. Well, in last night’s game, with two on, Brandon Morrow threw a fastball to Michael Young that got golfed out of the ballpark for a home run that pretty much decided the game. Tonight, Washburn had Young up with two on and the score tied in the fifth.
And that’s when he trotted out his “Dolphin” weapon.
“I tried to get through the whole lineup the first time through without using the “Dolphin”,” he said. “And I was able to do that, I didn’t use it. The second time through, I started mixing in the slow breaking ball a little more and just mixing up pitches a little more.”
What happened next had to be seen to be believed.
Young is a professional hitter. I’ve watched him as a beat writer since way, way back in his days as a Toronto Blue Jays farmhand a decade ago when I covered that team and he doesn’t get fooled this badly very often. But with the count 1-1, Washburn served him up a “Dolphin” special clocked at 70 mph and poor old Young had no chance.
He swung and missed by a Russell Branyan country mile.
Washburn then put the “Dolphin” back in its pen.
“I knew if I hit my spot inside, then we could probably get him out,” Washburn said.
His next pitch was a 90 mph cutter on the inside part of the plate that badly jammed Young and caused him to hit an “excuse me” grounder to Jose Lopez for the inning’s final out.
Washburn said the “Dolphin” has become a trusted friend.
“It’s huge for me,” he said. “It’s something that, as the season has progressed, I’ve gained more confidence in it and I’m using it in different situations than I have used it in the past.
“It’s just a great tool to be able to keep guys off balance. My whole career, I’ve been a fastball guy, so I think guys are a little bit anxious in the box, knowing they’re going to get fastballs and looking to swing. If I flip that 68, 70 mph curveball in there it does a great job of keeping them off-balance and making my fastball that much better.”
The funny thing is, Washburn and Johnson went over a list of guys before the game that they absolutely could not try the “Dolphin” on, lest it get rocketed 450 feet by some pro hitter. Washburn had Young on that list, but it was Johnson who felt they might be able to get away with using it on him.
Washburn relented and the rest is history. Most pitchers aim to get at least 10 mph of separation between their fastballs and off-speed pitches. To get a 20 mph separation is great.
And that, my friends, is how you pitch a team like the Texas Rangers when you don’t have overpowering stuff. Even if you do have 97 mph heat, this Rangers team can hit it iof you don’t mix things up.
It’s one reason Morrow is off to Class AAA for some work while Washburn is now one win ahead of his 2008 season and building on his best campaign since 2002. Washburn now has a 2.96 ERA. The last time he had a sub-3.00 ERA this late in a season came in August of 2002.
So, he’s having a career revival. Franklin Gutierrez and company are part of it. But not the biggest part. Washburn has learned how to pitch a different way and has reinvented himself.
He’s had nine outings of at least seven innings. He’s had only one start all season in which he’s gone fewer than six innings.
And while he may not have the pure strikeout “stuff” of a No. 2 starter, he’s posting the results of one. Washburn has spent his entire career getting hitters to mis-hit balls, so — strikeout totals or not — he deserves some benefit of the doubt here.
If Erik Bedard can turn in something nearly as good tomorrow, this has the makings of an interesting second half.