Topic: Blake Beavan
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February 25, 2013 at 8:57 AM
Just last night, it struck me that I’ve done four stories in less than a week involving players who have hired their own coaches and/or personal trainers to make some pretty radical shifts in the direction of their overall game and approach to it.
Blake Beavan is the latest I’ve written about and you can read the story in today’s print edition about how he spent a month working with University of Texas pitching coach/guru Skip Johnson in order to generate a more downward plane on his offerings. You all remember Doug Fister and how his downward angle on pitches from a 6-foot-8 height made it extremely difficult for hitters to make solid contact and do much more than pound balls into the ground.
Well, that’s what the 6-foot-7 Beavan is aiming for. He and Johnson worked three days a week — with Beavan sleeping over at minor leaguer Chane Ruffin’s place — at the Austin, TX campus of the U of T altering the pitcher’s delivery. The idea is for Beavan to create more downward angle and then to repeat his delivery so that it becomes consistent and enables him to disguise what’s coming. In the past, Beavan struggled to repeat the same mechanics when he switched from a fastball to a breaking ball. That’s a no-no in pitching — especially in the majors — because the hitters today are so smart and skilled that they will easily pick up on any slight change. So, if you know Beavan does things differently when he throws his breaking ball, you can just sit back and wait for it. Ditto on the fastball. And since Beavan’s fastball wasn’t generating any downward plane, the hitters who sensed it was coming would hit it a long, long way if it flattened out on him.
So, anyhow, that’s what Beavan has taken it upon himself to try to change. You have to admire the thought process, though the execution is a whole lot tougher to pull off than I’m making it sound. A pitcher altering his mechanics is no easy thing to pull off at the MLB level. It takes weeks and weeks of repetition to gain the confidence to use the tweaks in a game and then months, sometimes years, afterwards to hone it to perfection.
It may seem, sometimes, as if we’re constantly writing about players making tweaks and serious changes. Fact is, we are. This is a constant part of life at the higher levels of baseball, where raw talent alone is rarely enough to get you by forever. The players are just too sophisticated in how they attack opponents these days, studying traits and tendencies well in advance and now having high-speed computers as well as ample video to help them out.
The “classroom” part of MLB is the stuff fans never see. The stuff off the field. It’s a constant battle — part of an ongoing, never-ending war — to emerge on top of all comers. But just because we can’t always see it doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore it.
There is too much money at stake for players not to do this extra work, put in the preparation. Frankly, any player who isn’t constantly trying to stay ahead of “enemies” trying to get the better of him is an idiot.
We saw last year just how quickly Dustin Ackley, everybody’s flavor-of-the-week in 2011, went from hero to zero once opposing pitchers figured him out a bit and exploited his weaknesses. Now, he has to adapt.
So, as camp has progressed, we’ve done our best to tell you what some Mariners are planning in order to try to improve. As always, it’s the process we’re interested in at this stage. The results come later. And as we all should know by now, a process alone in baseball is no guarantee of results.
February 23, 2013 at 6:25 PM
There were plenty of positives to take out of today’s Mariners win over the San Diego Padres, starting with two of the hitters. We already talked about Jason Bay in the previous post, but Justin Smoak also hit a two-run homer today and did it batting from the left side. Smoak is a natural right-handed hitter so the left side will always be the one he has to work with.
Not to mention, it’s also the side he’ll use about three quarters of the time, since there are far more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties.
“It’s feeling better,” Smoak said. “It’s still a work in progress, but at the same time this is as close as I’ve felt for awhile to being where I want to be. So, it’s getting better.”
If Smoak hits like that from the left side all year, the Mariners will gain a real impact bat. But let’s wait and see first. It’s only his spring training debut.
On the pitching side, Blake Beavan has spent the spring so far working to generate a more downward plane on his pitches and it showed today. The Padres managed only two hits in his two innings and one was a blooper. None of his pitches were hit very hard, which has been the case with Beavan in the past when his fastball straightens out.
When you think of generating a downward plane, Doug Fister quickly comes to mind. He became a master at using only a couple of pitches to repeatedly get hitters out on soft contact, largely because they could not square up on all the downward-angled balls headed their way.
“I’m trying to create some more angle,” he said. “So, I got to work on some of that out there today and put it to the real test out there with some opposing hitters in more of a game situation.”
The biggest mechanical change sees Beavan getting his hands moving a little more and with more rhythm during his windup. Out of the stretch, he’ll start with his glove up higher and closer to his face. He’ll then break his hands away more quickly to try to generate the angle he’s looking for.
“I’d try to compare myself to Fister but I’m not that big as he is,” Beavan said. “But that’s kind of the way I’m trying to get my hands separated so I can get more of a downward plane on the ball. Get everything going downhill and use my height to my advantage rather than getting underneath stuff and getting more rotation. That’s how your ball flattens out.”
February 23, 2013 at 2:58 PM
Jason Bay made his presence felt today, clubbing a two-run homer in the first inning of his spring debut. Justin Smoak and Mike Jacobs later added a pair of two-run blasts of their own to complete an 8-6 win over the San Diego Padres.
Bay is in a dogfight with Casper Wells for the fifth and final outfield spot, barring any injuries. Wells hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning yesterday, so Bay just evened the count between them. I’d spoken to Bay about this, his chances this spring and his outlook on his future even before he took the field today. More on that later.
But today, he repeated some of what he told me when speaking to reporters after coming off the field.
“I’m more worried about what I can do,” he said. “I understand there’s a limited number of people and a limited number of spots. I’m not so concerned about ‘Who does this?’ I’m worried about me. I was under that impression when I came here. I’ve still got to make the team.”
February 23, 2013 at 10:46 AM
Here’s a much more up-close look at Felix Hernandez’s bullpen session this morning than we were able to show you the first time around when he was indoors. Today, he threw in the outdoor pen, with Mariners minor league catcher John Hicks forming the other end of the battery. Hicks gets a firsthand lesson on just how much movement there is to Hernandez’s offerings, as you’ll see early on in the video.
February 13, 2013 at 10:39 AM
We’ve spent part of the morning watching the Mariners go through pitchers’ fielding practice and throw some bullpen sessions. Yes, that means spring training is officially underway.
Don’t forget, we’ll have the Felix Hernandez press conference at 2 p.m. PT today from Safeco Field. The Hernandez extension is obviously viewed as a coup by the Mariners organization and is good news for teammates who’ve come to rely on him over the years.
“To us, he is the best pitcher in baseball,” Mariners starter Blake Beavan said. “He’s the kind of guy you can go to for advice, he’s easy to talk to. He’s always been good to younger guys. That’s all you hear from guys on other teams who have gotten to know him, too. Having him on our team is whatwe’ve been built around. So, I think it’s good for Seattle to keep a guy like that for a long time to build around a franchise. He is the face of our team.”
It’s interesting to hear a guy like Beavan, who is 24, talk about Hernandez, 26, as if he’s so much older and wiser.
“I think I look at him as an older guy because I’m still inexperienced,” Beavan said. “Especially compared to him. He came up when he was19, he’s 26 now and about to be 27. He’s got six years in and he is a veteran whether he’s 24, or 25 or 26. I think everybody looks up to him as a veteran regardless of age.”