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September 3, 2011 at 5:23 PM

Real good news about Michael Pineda and his changeup in this game

There is a lot to worry about offensively and overall when it comes to how this team might perform down the stretch. But some of the best news fans might receive all year came out of the post-game session in regards to Michael Pineda and his changeup.
The third pitch has been a work-in-progress for Pineda all year, but today it was more. Today it became a useful weapon.
“My changeup was nasty,” Pineda said. “My changeup is getting better now. In April, I was throwing a lot of sliders and teams knew I’d be throwing sliders during the game. Now, when teams think I’m going to throw a slider, I throw them a changeup. And that’s a good thing.”
Josh Bard figured Pineda threw about 15 changeups today to go along with his usual fastball-slider combo. Pineda wound up with seven strikeouts on the day and allowed just three runs over six innings in the 3-0 loss.
“It’s something we’ve been working really hard on with him and he’s been working really hard,” Bard said. “I think it’s a pitch that’s hopefully going to be a separator for him. I know it is for Felix (Hernandez). Felix has been the No. 1 salesman to him about it and Michael obviously respects Felix a lot as he should.”
Pineda said of Hernandez: “I have learned a lot from him. He has treated me very well, which I appreciate a lot.”

The speed of the changeup isn’t really the difference these days. More like the movement. Pineda and Bard both felt the movement was a huge improvement over what he’s thrown before.
Bard compared it to Hernandez’s changeup, which “acts like a splitter.”
The catcher says he can envision Pineda with a “power changeup” similar to Hernandez’s, which can be a finishing pitch in an at-bat the way his slider now is. The problem with the slider, Bard added, is that a few more times around the league and everyone will be expecting it.
The third pitch only adds to the guessing and makes getting beaten by a lucky swing a lot less likely.
So, that’s the good news. The real progress shown by Pineda in advancing towards the third pitch. If he can hone it by next year, the team could have a solid No. 2 starter on its hands who can stare down both lefties and righties.
If not, you have a two-pitch guy prone to the old “sophomore jinx” which is really just a fancy catchphrase for hitters getting a book on a guy and adjusting to him.
Speaking of young guys, M’s manager Eric Wedge said he saw far more “long” swings on hittable pitches than normal today. I asked him whether that’s a sign the team could be wearing down and he said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
But he did say that young teams like this one can be prone to September energy outages. The Class AAA season ends in two days and that’s normally when a lot of these guys would be heading home for the winter.
Now, they’ve got 3 1/2 weeks still to play. The M’s have lost seven of nine and 11 of 16. They are 15-32 since the all-star break and 15-37 since last being a .500 team just five days prior to the break.
“I think there’s always that possibility,” Wedge said of the team wearing down. “But that’s why we have to work through this. They have to fight through that. There’s not much you can do to guard against it. They have to stay sharp mentally so they can stay on top of it physically. It probably starts more upstairs than anything.”
Like I said, this is about the development of the young guys. And that means staying on top of them when they lose, not just wondrously applauding the hits they get when the team wins. Young guys on all teams have gotten hits in August and September before and while fans may cutely applaud that as a refreshing change from slumping veterans, it has to transition beyond the initial infatuation into something meaningful.
The team performing out there right now will be — we assume — largely the same one taking the field on Opening Day just seven months from now. It’s not too early to expect something more than we’ve seen the last week or so. The M’s need a team that can finish. If not, we’ll be going through this same exercise over and over again in the years ahead.
There’s a huge difference between a championship team and one that’s gone 15-37 since waking up on July 6. The games now may not be all about wins and losses. But they’re not about rolling over like the M’s did on offense today, last night and for most of the past week. This team needs to pick it up.



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