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Below are the top weapons off the mound that big-league hitters have nightmares over:
Johan Santana, changeup: What makes the left-hander’s changeup so tough is his arm speed and motion. It replicates that of when he throws a fastball. But since it’s a changeup that’s coming, hitters get fooled, and are way out ahead of the pitch when they swing at it.
Santana learned to throw his changeup at the Triple-A level. He had a fastball and he had pretty good control, but his slider was a bit inconsistent. So the Twins wanted him to learn another pitch, and boy did he ever come up with a masterful changeup. It has movement on it, sink-type motion, so it’s almost like he is throwing a screwball.
Trevor Hoffman, changeup: The closer is getting on in age, but he still has one of the best changeups in the game. He has perfected the pitch over the years. Hoffman was signed as a shortstop by the Reds, but he struggled at the plate so they turned him into a pitcher because of his strong arm. He had a good curveball, but needed an offspeed pitch so he developed the changeup. It did wonders for his career.
Mariano Rivera, cutter: He has a fastball, but does not possess a big curveball, so it’s the cutter that’s been most responsible for all of what he has been able to accomplish in his career. I can’t recall a pitcher that has been able to come into a game and dominate with one pitch for such a long period of time the way Rivera has his cutter. His control of the cutter is unbelievable, where he can work it in to a right-handed or left-handed hitter or he can go away with it. His cutter only moves six to eight inches, but that’s enough to fool most hitters.
CC Sabathia, slider: We know he has a very good fastball, but when his slider is on, breaking down and in to right-handed hitters it’s one great pitch. Sabathia has the physical presence where he could just rare back and challenge hitters. But he is a pitcher in that he’s learned how to mix together his fastball, changeup and superior slider, which is his strikeout pitch.
Derek Lowe, sinker: It’s a natural pitch for him, and it makes hitters think they are on it, but instead they are beating it out to shortstop. Lowe is not a strikeout pitcher. He’s a contact pitcher, and his nasty sinker cuts down hitters. Eight out of every ten pitchers from Lowe will be sinkers. Hitters know it’s coming, and the only way Lowe gets hurt with it is if he leaves it up in the strike zone. If it starts thigh high or around the knees, it’s real mean business for those trying to make contact with it.
Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, curveball: Lee has mastered the pitch as a left-hander, and Oswalt has done so as a right-hander. Both Lee and Oswalt have very good fastballs that work to complement the effectiveness of their curveballs. Both pitchers work very quickly, which aids them in their success. Lee and Oswalt have terrific arm speed and their curveballs come out of the same slot as their fastballs. They get tremendous spin on their curveballs, which creates the 12-to-6 type of drop on the pitch.
Armando Galarraga, slider. A real find last season for the Tigers as he was claimed off waivers from Texas, he has a slider that just disappears from hitters. It looks to hitter like a four-seam fastball and than just drops, the bottom just falls out. He is probably a better pitcher than Detroit’s ace Justin Verlander because he changes speeds better than Verlander. The Rangers have to regret giving up on Galarraga.
Randy Johnson, fastball: The 45-year-old Big Unit can still bring it. Just look at his 173 strikeouts and under-4.00 ERA in 184 innings last season. What makes his fastball so tough is that at times he is erratic with it at times, and that gets into the heads of hitters. He is also not afraid to pitch inside, and is a battler, who goes right after hitters.
Honorable mention: Roy Halladay, all of his pitches are nasty, Felix Hernandez (breaking ball), Carlos Zambrano (slider), Scott Shields (curveball), Jonathan Papelbon (fastball), Joe Nathan (fastball), Francisco Rodriguez (fastball), Zack Greinke (slider).