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9.19.2006

Change the Change 

I won't gnash my teeth over last night's 20-8 debacle. Before the game, the Giants needed a small miracle to reach the playoffs. After the game, which only counts for one loss, they'll need a slightly larger miracle.

Instead, I'll scratch my head about Noah Lowry. The man is not right. Felipe Alou "wondered aloud to reporters" after the game if Lowry's elbow is still bothering him, according to Henry Schulman.

I wondered aloud to myself during the game if the league hasn't figured him out. Perhaps the elbow is causing him to throw pitches above the belt, which is very very bad. But I think a bigger problem, perhaps compounded by injury, perhaps not, is that teams have figured out the change-up.

Here's my theory: batters stand in against Lowry looking change-up all the way. His fastball isn't fast enough or accurate enough to worry too much about; hitters can foul it off or let it go. His breaking pitches are still very inconsistent. Even when he throws them for strikes they're not swing-and-miss pitches.

The changeup remains his best pitch. Problem is, it's not an easy pitch to paint with; the circle grip, held back farther toward the palm, makes it less of a "feel" pitch than a fastball, which is held on the fingertips. Palm, less control; fingertips, more control.

The fastball will go exactly where a pitcher wants if he's got a good feel for it. The change is more like a knuckleball -- throw it to a certain vicinity (usually the outside corner) and hope that it has a lot of action. That's why Jason Schmidt's changeup can be so devastating; when he's on, it dives like a splitter. He seems to command it like a fastball.

Lowry's changeup isn't about location; it's more about change of speed. Sometimes it's straight, sometimes it dips and dives. When it was a surprise, just the change of speed was enough to fool hitters. But now they're looking for it, and when it gets too much of the plate, boom.

Baseball is littered with the memories of one-year wonders. Lowry may be another if he doesn't make adjustments.

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