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  • Chris Carpenter wears fake nails

    Cards Insider: Getting their grip
    By Derrick Goold
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    Fingernails be damned; the grip is it.

    Where he places his fingers in relation to the seams on the baseball has drastically altered how Jason Marquis values his fastball. Testing different grips gave Jeff Suppan control of an effective changeup, A familiar grip he abandoned helped Mark Mulder halt a rookie-year losing streak and develop a "money" pitch. A grip is the start of one of the league's best beguiling curveballs for Matt Morris.

    And, it has cost Cy Young contender Chris Carpenter his fingernails.

    For the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals five starters showed staff photographer Chris Lee their grips on one style of pitch each and told the story behind the pitch. It didn't necessarily have to be their best pitch or most effective pitch, but the one with a memorable background or one that changed their career. It was while showing the grip on his cut fastball that Carpenter, baseball's first 18-game winner this season, was asked how he kept his fingernails at the right length to dig into the ball.

    "That's a long story," Carpenter said.

    They're fakes, he explained. The nails on the index and middle finger of his right hand were so punished by his pitching that he has to replace them with artificial nails. After the abuse of several starts and the pressure of hundreds of pitches, Carpenter gets the fake nails replaced every two weeks or so.

    Getting a grip, whatever the cost.

    Five pitches from the five starters:


    One of Carpenter's hardest pitches started with the softest of tosses. With the pitching coach who taught him the cutter, Mel Queen, Carpenter would stand about 15 to 20 feet away and fling the new pitch. "I was just lobbing it to the point Mel was catching it with his bare hands," Carpenter said. "I was just lobbing it to feel it come off my hand and feel the spin it was supposed to have."

    Carpenter arrived in Toronto with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, and it was Queen who showed him that by just off-setting the seams of the ball just slightly he could mix in a cutter and jar hitters off his fastball.

    "It's a simple pitch to throw if you grasp the concept," Carpenter said. "Once you figure out the way it's supposed to feel and the way you're supposed to throw it, it's simple because all it is is a cut fastball. . . . It's also a pitch where - the great thing about it is - you can use it in different situations. You can use it against a guy that you know is going to be an aggressive swinger (on the first pitch). You can throw it and get a lot of groundballs. You can use it ahead in the count and gets swings and misses. You can use it behind in the count where it's a fastball situation and you know the guy's looking fastball and you throw a cutter in there.

    "They see fastball," he continued.

    "Look fastball.

    "Recognize fastball.

    "But it's a cutter, and they hit it off the end of the bat."

    The most trumpeted cutter in the majors is that of New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who is famous for cracking bats with the buzz of his cutter. Carpenter's cutter moves sideways - right to left from his view - and down a little. It doesn't have the vertical drop of a slider; rather, it has an "in between tilt," Carpenter said. When it's sharp, it darts about 6 inches or so, he said. "Just enough to get it off the barrel of the bat."

    Last season, Carpenter began working on pounding lefthanded batters inside with the cutter. Moving it away from a righthander was effective, but cramming it in on lefties would make it that much more effective. It has been over the course of this season - which, remember, started with him having difficulty getting lefties out.

    "It was a new piece to me (when Queen introduced it), a new pitch. I had to, one, develop confidence in it . . . and, two, know when the right time to use it. Now, I can throw it any time I want."


    In his freshman year at Seton Hall, Morris was a "fastball-slider pitcher," and "the next year," he said, "my slider had somehow turned into a curveball. I just kind of woke up, changed my thinking on it, and all of sudden, it was a pretty sharp curveball." Sharp enough to be among the best in baseball. In a poll of National League managers conducted by Baseball America, Morris was voted as having the third-best curve in the league.

    "Everybody learns a curveball," he said, when asked how his developed. "You either have it or you don't."

    After making the overnight switch from slider curve, Morris would walk around flipping a ball in his hand, out of the curveball grip. He'd spin the ball up off his hand and catch it - making sure the ball came off his index finger just like it would when throwing a curve. Just to get the feel of the pitch.

    "I was thinking about the break going 12 (o'clock) to 6 (o'clock, as if on a clock face) and I was able to get my hand out in front and pulling my hand down, instead of across," he said. "Once I started doing that, it was taking off in velocity and had a sharper bite down."

    He worked to throw the curve for not only strikes, but also pound it in the dirt to get batters flailing after it. But it was the tutelage from one of the game's renowned curveballers that further honed Morris' bend. Darryl Kile, the former Cardinal and Morris' close friend, had a buckling curve, and it was Kile that helped Morris refine his view of the curve. "What people mistake is they think of it as an off-speed pitch, and they don't power through it," he said. "Where DK helped me a lot was thinking about it as a power pitch, like my sinker or like my fastball and powering through it. It's really just like the fastball all the way through your motion until the release point. If it changes any earlier than that it usually gets too big and not as sharp."

    Morris wants the curve to come out of his hand at the same height as his fastball. For some pitchers, the curve pops up out of the hand and it's clearly a breaking ball and often a slow bender.

    "I've thrown that too, but I don't mean to," he said. "It's easy to recognize." It's better, he explained, when he extends his arm like a fastball and only the release snaps the curve. It's a feel pitch, and the feel can drift, but even an off-day curve can be effective.

    "There's days when you don't have your sharp one," Morris said. "There's counts to use your curveball when you don't need your sharp one. Behind in the count or first pitch to certain guys - you can just flip it in there. But you don't want to get burned on one of those."


    Late in his rookie year of 2000 with Oakland, Mulder had lost four of his previous five decisions and gone 1-4 over his past seven starts headed into a game in September at Fenway Park. "We're going into Boston, and it was a big game for us because we were right there as far as the division goes, and I wasn't exactly pitching great," the Cardinals lefty said. "My changeup was terrible. I lost the feel for it. So, I said (to catcher Sal Fasano), 'I used to have a split.' I kind of just spread my fingers on the ball, and I'll just throw this as my changeup. I used to throw it anyway, so it's no big deal."

    Mulder, using his splitfinger fastball in place of his malfunctioning changeup on Sept. 6, 2000, threw six innings and allowed two earned runs - both on solo home runs - as the Athletics defeated the Red Sox 6-4. The split has been key since. "I came back with that in 2001, and it was my money pitch," Mulder described. "It became so much more because the more I threw it, the more comfortable with it I became. And then I started throwing it harder, and it started moving a little more."

    During his junior year at Michigan State, Mulder threw the "splitty" often. That was his draft year, and expectations were that he would go high (he went second overall to the A's), so he was keenly aware of everything arm-related. In one of his last college starts, he threw a split early in the game and he felt a tickle in his forearm. He tried the pitch again later and felt the same tingle.

    "I thought, 'OK, that kind of felt weird,' " he recalled. "Very next inning, threw another one and it felt weird again. It didn't hurt, but I didn't know what it was. I never had any arm problems, but . . . A little twinge or something. I threw maybe four that game and that little tweak or whatever it scared me so much, I quit throwing it."

    Not in Triple-A a season later. Not in the majors the next year. Not until Boston.

    "I was scared to throw it," he explained.

    The splitter, popularized by former Cardinals' closer Bruce Sutter, is held with the fingers split, like fangs, along the seams as the seams widen to form a horseshoe. The pitch, started as a changeup variation not unlike the change discussed below by Jeff Suppan, makes a sharp plummet as it reaches the strike zone. For Mulder it's been a strikeout pitch, but this season he has gotten more groundballs off the split.

    "When it's right, it's coming out of my hand just like a fastball," Mulder said. "And the hitter sees it, and I think the reaction would be, 'I got this.' And then, all of sudden, boop! It drops."


    The righthander test-drove several varieties of changeups because, he said, "I've always believed that pitching is changing the batter's bat speed. So regardless of the type of fastball you have, if you can command a changeup it can help your fastball. It makes a fastball seem that little faster."

    He just couldn't command a changeup. Not a straight change, a circle change and "even a changeup where you drop your wrist down like you're pulling a shade."

    In 1994, Suppan was in the Florida State League, and one of the biggest influences on his career, pitching guru Al Nipper, taught him the "fosh change." "It's a split-finger changeup," Suppan explained. "Of all the changeups that I've thrown, I actually thought that was the easiest to throw. At its worst, it's going to be a good, slow changeup. At its best, it's going to have a downward action, almost like split-finger action. Over the years I've learned to throw it to both sides of the plate. . . . I think a changeup is a big part of my repertoire of pitches."

    His fosh is one of the pitches Suppan throws in the bullpen when warming up for a start because of its importance. He holds the ball with splayed fingers, and it's crucial that his arm action on the change duplicates his delivery on his fastball. Otherwise, the ruse is ineffective. "If you have a dominant fastball, it takes people off that fastball if you're able to locate the changeup," Suppan said. "If you can throw a fastball changeup, and it looks the same each time, that's a pretty tough combination."

    According to The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, there is no proven story for who or what christened the "fosh." Earl Weaver said the pitch is a cross between a fastball and a dead fish.


    For the sake of command and the thrill of velocity, Marquis mostly used a four-seam fastball until 2004's spring training, his first with the Cardinals, when he was taught the gospel of his natural sinker. Pitching coach Dave Duncan revolutionized Marquis' view of the pitch after seeing the sinker in a bullpen session.

    "I would always throw (the sinker) in the past, when I needed a groundball to get a double play or whatever the situation that needed a groundball," Marquis said. "It never dawned on me or hit me that if I could use it in a situation where I needed a groundball then, why not use it all the time? . . .

    "'Dunc' was the one that pointed that out at spring training (2004)," Marquis continued. "I was throwing in my bullpen. I'd be throwing four-seam, four-seam and then throw a two-seam and it had good action on it. I'd throw another two-seam and it had good action on it. Dunc was sitting there like you'd see in a movie: Scratching his head like, 'Well, you keep it down in the zone all the time every time you throw it in the 'pen. What's the reason for not using it all of the time?'

    "That's sort of the point when it hit me and sort of changed my whole game plan and built my game around my sinker."

    Marquis traces the origin of his grip on the sinker back to his adolescence. Marquis said "being barely 6 foot, I had hands on the smaller side." He felt he could get a stronger hold on the ball holding it over two seams instead of across four. That's how he played catch. When he got to the pros, he went with the four-seam for control and sizzle. But he always threw a two-seam fastball when playing catch. It fit his hand better.

    "Mine is a power sinker," Marquis said when comparing it to other sinkerballers. "Mine seems more like a fastball; it has more four-seam action. It stays on a straight plane until it gets closer to the plate."

    Marquis has worked to augment his sinker with a curve and a changeup to be a more effective starting pitcher. It is, however, the sinker that's his "bread and butter." It's considered one of the finer individual pitches on the staff, and Duncan calls it "an escape pitch."

    But when he strays from the sinker or when his sinker strays from him, he struggles. If he throws the sinker up in the zone, it can be easily hammered. "It has always felt more natural to throw a two-seam fastball than a four-seam fastball," he said. "And it still does."

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    I want to hear about Wakefield and what he does too. Bouton was so adamant about throwing every single day. I am horrible at pitching, but I want to know. I loved reading this and holding a baseball. I throw like a girl usually. I corrected myself during this article.

    Sometimes elections have positive consequences!


    • #3

      Chris Carpenter close to signing an endorsement deal...


      • #4
        Half-shirts and fake nails. How many more homos do we have on this team?



        • #5
          technically isn't that cheating?


          • #6
            Originally posted by Xavier@Aug 28 2005, 09:07 AM
            technically isn't that cheating?

            Sure, if wearing contact lenses is cheating ...
            Dude. Can. Fly.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Xavier@Aug 28 2005, 10:07 AM
              technically isn't that cheating?
              Official 2014-15 Lounge Sponsor of Jori Lehterä
              "He'll Finnish You Off"


              • #8
                Don't you just hate it when you break a nail?


                • #9
                  Originally posted by cardinalgirl@Aug 28 2005, 03:48 AM
                  I throw like a girl usually. I corrected myself during this article.

                  Um, ok.
                  RIP Stan the Man
                  The StL Blues will NEVER win the Stanley Cup. I repeat, NEVER!
                  I miss TLR!


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Xavier@Aug 28 2005, 10:07 AM
                    technically isn't that cheating?

                    Not for Cardinals. Anybody else and we would be screaming bloody murder.
                    RIP Stan the Man
                    The StL Blues will NEVER win the Stanley Cup. I repeat, NEVER!
                    I miss TLR!