Few things in baseball are more annoying than watching a pitcher shut the Rays down by throwing soft stuff up in the zone. Tommy Hunter did just that in 2010, all the while tossing high curve after high curve, and Carlos Villanueva pulled a similar feat on Thursday night.
Following a mid-July start versus the Indians, Villanueva said:
“They had a good game plan against me, they were waiting me out and we adjusted accordingly. We talked for a little bit, and I just started using my fastball more in middle counts. It seemed like if I went first-pitch fastball, they were swinging at it and then I went offspeed second and third pitch it didn’t matter if it was close, they were taking.”
Villanueva did alter his pitch usage as the game wore on. The problem is, he did so on his terms. Like most pitchers reliant upon secondary offerings, Villanueva needs to avoid falling behind into fastball counts. He threw 17 pitches in counts with at least two balls. Give Villanueva credit, he was able to throw his secondary stuff for strikes, further alleviating the pressure on his fastball.
The first time through the order, Villanueva threw 54 percent fastballs and 31 percent changeups and curveballs; the second time through, he offered 45 percent fastballs and 38 percent changeups and curveballs; to the four batters he faced a third time, he threw 40 percent fastballs and 40 percent changeups and curveballs. The more the game progressed, the less likely Rays were to see a fastball—a smart and necessary strategy on Villanueva’s part. If only Villanueva had located his changeup down in the zone, the loss would be easier to accept. As it is, you can’t help but wonder how he got away with it.