The book on Mariners relief pitchers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor used to make for some pretty remedial reading. In fact, you could summarize it all in one chapter — lots of high 90s heat.
But that wasn’t going to take their big league careers very far. You can get away with throwing fastballs — even the 100 mph variety — for only so long before hitters in MLB adjust their swing timing and figure a way to beat you.
So, the priority for both pitchers this spring was to do something about it by honinh and implementing slower secondary pitches. So far, they have.
Capps has zipped through his last two outings, retiring all six batters faced — five of them via strikeouts. Throw in a minor league contest in which he also retired the side with two strikeouts and he’s got seven K against his last nine batters. He struck out the side to end last night’s game against the San Diego Padres.
Pryor has struck out six of his last 10 batters faced in his last three Cactus League outings, while allowing just one hit during that time.
Both have shown improved command of their off-speed pitches.
Against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, Pryor started Cole Gillespie off with an 86 mph slider for a called strike. He immediately came back with a pair of mid-90s fastballs that were taken for balls. But in the 2-1 hitter’s count, instead of reverting to more heat, Pryor still felt confident enough to throw another slider at 86 mph and Gillespie — expecting another fastball — swung early and through the pitch. Pryor then came back with another fastball — 11 mph quicker — and Gillespie foul-tipped it into the catcher’s glove for an inning-ending strikeout.
That’s how a pitcher gets big league outs.
“I was in situations last year where I was going five or six pitches to a guy and he was fouling them off a lot because he was seeing hard, hard, hard,” Pryor said. “So, I figured if I had something soft, I could set him up with either my fastball or my slider and it would help my pitching quite a bit.”
The off-speed stuff has not only helped both pitchers throw the timing of right-handed hitters off, it’s also given both some improved weaponry to use against left-handed hitters as well.
Last night, Capps faced lefthanded-hitting Sawyer Carroll to start the ninth. After a pair of fastballs at 93-95 mph to start things off, Capps threw a 1-1 slider to Carroll clocked at 83 mph. Carroll took it for a called strike. Eventually, Capps put him away with a fastball.
Capps has been “falling in love with” his slider all spring and has been willing to use to both-handed hitters. He calls it a “slider/cutter” because it’s a variation of both pitches.
“I know that at 1-0, I can come back with a slider and almost steal a strike,” he said. “Guys are hunting my fastball so hard, especially on fastball counts. It’s not even a thought in their mind, so it definitely helps. It speeds up (the look of) my fastball a little bit, so that helps it out, too.”
Capps also throws a curveball that dips to the mid-70s in speed.
“It’s a little slower and has a little more break,” Capps said. “So, out of my hand they might see it as a ball and then it can kind of drop in.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge is now talking about both pitchers as though he’s confident using them late in games.
“It’s nice to have multiple options late in the game and you need that if you’re going to stay fresh through 162,” Wedge said.