Last week, Buster Olney wrote about how Mike Mussina has been making like Greg Maddux and throwing his soft stuff even slower. Today, Tom Verducci gives us more insight into why Moose has been so successful this spring:
"I threw in an intrasquad game in spring training,'' Mussina said. "People were like, 'Why are you pitching in an intrasquad game?' Really, the only reason why I did was that you back everything up from the start of the season, counting five days between starts, and five days before my first spring training start happened to be a day when we had an intrasquad game.
"So I'm pitching in this intrasquad game and [Jorge] Posada is up. The count is 3 and 2 and I throw a changeup. Now for some reason, Posada is right on the pitch and he smokes it. Hits it on a line. We got him out, but I was surprised that he would be right on a 3-and-2 change.
"So after the game I asked him, 'How could you be right on that changeup I threw you?' He said, 'I saw your fingers on top of the ball as it was coming out of your hand. I could tell it was a changeup.'"
What Posada saw were Mussina's index, middle and ring fingers splayed across the top of the baseball, a grip that makes it impossible for a pitcher to throw anything but an off-speed pitch. (Only two fingers, the index and middle, top the ball for a fastball.) Posada saw the dead giveaway, kept his hands and weight back and timed the changeup perfectly.
Mussina is 37 years old and has been pitching in the major leagues since 1991. No one had ever told him what Posada told him. So Mussina decided to change his grip. He slid his index finger more to the side of the ball than the top of the ball -- not quite the grip for a circle changeup, in which the thumb and index finger form a circle on the side of the ball, but a modified version of it.
The pitch worked perfectly. Not only was Mussina able to disguise the pitch, but he also was able to throw it slower and generate better downward movement on it. "It doesn't so much run,'' Mussina said, referring to the sideways motion some pitchers get from their changeup, "but it just kind of dies at the end. It tumbles under the hitter's bat. And to think if I didn't bother pitching in an intrasquad game, none of this would have happened."
A few years ago, I did a pre-season Q&A with a bunch of sportswriters. One of the questions I posed was whether Mussina would finally win 20 games that season. Most thought he'd be a lock for at least 15. We've seen Mussina break down with injuries for the past two years, and so the old "Will he win 20?" was not exactly the first question many Yankee fans had on their mind when considering Mussina in 2006. But wouldn't it be wunnerful if he did win 20 this year?
I know, it's a jinx to mention it, but screw it, Mussina has enough bad luck on his own--I'm not going to be the one that puts the whammy on him. Regardless, I hope he gets at least 15 and has a terrific year. It's been cool reading the comments section lately and seeing how many fans he has out there. Cliff and I have always been big supporters. Should be interesting to see how he fares against the Jays this weekend, as they get their second look at him. Friday night, which pits the Big Unit v. Roy Halladay could be something special too.