Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Colon’s impressive comeback

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Colon’s impressive comeback

by Matt Smith

WHGB11He arrived as an uninspiring second prize to a team unaccustomed to accepting second best. 

The New York Yankee way was for Cliff Lee, the most-prized pitcher on the free agent market, to be stood in front of the cameras wearing pinstripes at a press conference.  Instead they had to make do with Bartolo Colon signing a Minor League contract.  No cameras, no fanfare, no bullish statement of intent to demoralize their rivals. 

And why would there be?  Here was a pitcher pushing 38 years old who hadn’t pitched at all in the Majors in 2010 and had battled through four injury-riddled seasons prior to that.  The Yankees were signing a former Cy Young award winner, but his 2005 season seemed a lifetime ago and there was no pretence that Cy Young form was expected from the new recruit. 

Colon had pitched well in the Dominican Winter League and the Yankees thought he was worth a flyer; a Minor League deal and an invite to Spring Training to see if he had anything left.  Against the odds, Colon won a place on the Yankees’ pitching staff as a long-reliever and when Phil Hughes went down, he was next in line to step into the rotation.

Two starts in and the Yankees couldn’t be happier with how he has done.  His eight-inning performance against the Chicago White Sox last Wednesday was particularly impressive. Showing a four-seam fastball that hit 96 MPH on the radar gun, he was able to keep an admittedly scuffling Sox lineup in check with relative ease after escaping from a bases-loaded jam in the second inning. 

While the speed of his four-seam fastball caught the eye, watching his start more closely shows that it was his two-seamer that gave the White Sox hitters the most trouble. 

The beauty of a pitch is in the eye of the beholder.  Some are awed by a blazing high fastball that the hitter can’t leave but can’t hit either, others revel in a ‘Bugs Bunny’ changeup that baffles completely, or a 12-6 curve that starts at the letters and ends up on the shoetops of a hitter busy swinging himself into the ground.

But the comeback two-seamer takes some beating for me.  There have been many fine exponents of the pitch over the years, but Greg Maddux was the master and I always think of it as the Maddux pitch. 

When thrown by a right-handed pitcher to a left-handed hitter, the pitch looks as if it’s going to hit their front hip, often causing the batter to slightly move away and lift their bat to let the pitch harmless fly past.  However, the tailing action on the pitch brings it back in so that it catches the inside corner of the plate for a strike.  It’s the baseball equivalent of a batsman shouldering arms at a swinging delivery only to hear the death rattle as it clips the top of off-stump.

Colon used the pitch to great effect on Wednesday.  In one case he got Paul Konerko to harmlessly ground into an inning-ending double play, the movement on the pitch making it so difficult for the batter to square the ball up.  Then he took care of Adam Dunn in the fourth and A.J. Pierzynski in the sixth in the classic come-backer style: a called third strike with the batter left staring at a pitch that they thought was going to be several inches inside.

There’s no telling how long Colon’s good form will last and the Yankees will be glad for whatever they get from him.  So long as he can throw that two-seamer for a strike and has another pitch or two to work with, Colon might just be able to hold back Father Time for a little longer yet.

What’s in a name?

As an A’s fan on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the charmless nature of the ballpark in Oakland doesn’t affect me too much.  I can join in with the ‘it’s a dump, but it’s home’ banter without having to face the practicalities of its less-than-impressive facilities.

One part of the ballpark that I am confronted by on a regular basis is its name.  On game reports, news items and commentaries, it always gets a mention.  And after an announcement last week, that’s going to be a real pain.

An online discount retailer has paid $7.2m to buy the naming rights of the Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders’ home for the next six years.  As of this week, Bob Geren’s team are welcoming their opponents to the Overstock.com Coliseum.  

The .com bit makes it all the more horrible.  Overstock Coliseum would sound daft too, but in time it would roll off the tongue, or glide past the eye, without anyone taking much notice as to what it stands for, just as football fans refer to Arsenal’s stadium as “The Emirates” without consciously linking it to the airline.   As it is, you can’t overlook the link (although you can refuse to click on it in protest).

That’s the compromise of corporate sponsorship.  I’ll cringe every time I see the name and defiantly continue to call it the Coliseum.

All-Stars already?

Every year a debate starts on what criteria fans should use to choose their All-Star selections.  It’s an empty debate in some ways as there isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question, no matter how forcefully some may argue for their approach as being correct.  It comes down to a personal choice of who you would like to see being part of it and how you decide on that is up to you. 

However, one question always crops up: how much weight should you give to a player’s performance so far this season? 

I mention it because the voting system for this year’s All-Star game has already opened, which seems very early to me.  I guess if you don’t take into account how a player is performing during the current season when making your picks then that’s fair enough.  A good first-half to the season can tip the balance between two close contenders for me, so I’ll be leaving my ballot until much closer to the voting deadline (30 June).

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Gareth Pitman May 3, 2011 - 7:15 pm

Nice one Matt.

As a Yankee fan, I was very worried about their pitching this year, although I for one didn’t want them to sign Cliff Lee. I just have a real dislike for the man that isn’t founded on anything really, just one of those irrational things. Things got worse as soon as Phil Hughes started throwing pitches. But Colon has been great. He’s another of these guys who just doesn’t look like a pro athlete.

Love the A’s new stadium name! That is brilliant. I love naff stadium names. When Cardiff City were building their new stadium I was rooting for it to be the Lidl Arena (a cut price food chain in case they don’t exist outside South Wales), or something equally chavvy. Have you been to the Coliseum? I will be there in July for a game against the Mariners (together with a Mets/Giants game at AT&T Park) whilst on a California road trip. Can’t wait!

Nice one.

Matt Smith May 3, 2011 - 8:04 pm

Hi Gareth

That’s one thing I forgot to mention, Colon’s less than typical pro athlete physique! I’m not sure if players like that help or hinder the process of trying to sell baseball to skeptics, but I always enjoying see the likes of Colon do well.

I’ve never been to the Coliseum actually. Sounds like you’ve got a great road trip lined up though.



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