Oh wow, what have I gotten myself into here?
I was planning on talking about strategies for hitting great pitchers before jumping in on these five guys, but I’m realizing this isn’t all that easy. First off, in all honesty, every time you play, your approach is going to be a bit different. It will depend on the specific pitcher, what he’s gotten you out with in the past, the situation in a game, things like that.
But there’s also this: Some of the guys I’m going to talk about below might be reading this. So I can’t let them in on my secrets, right? It’s already tough enough to get hits off these guys.
What I can say, though, is that for me being successful at hitting is all about what happens way before I step in the box. It’s about a pregame routine — work in the batting cage, and during BP, and mental preparation — aimed at ensuring I’m as comfortable as possible when I take that first at bat. Once you get up there, you have to try to keep it as simple as possible. You simply cannot be thinking too much. If you go into an at bat thinking about where your hands are or anything else mechanical, that’s just less attention you’re going to be able to pay to the ball.
And with each of the five pitchers I discuss here, if you’re even the slightest bit distracted, or if you lose focus for even a split second, you’re done. Take a seat. These guys don’t play. They are the five toughest pitchers in the AL Central.
Corey Kluber (7 for 38, .184 against, 0 HR, 2 RBIs, 12 Ks):
So I’d like to tell you that I’ve had a ton of memorable at bats against this guy.
But to be honest, I don’t have any. I can’t think of a single one because I’ve tried to wipe all of them out of my mind as fast as possible. They all stink.
What makes Corey so good is that nothing rattles him. Nothing. He always seems to be in complete control. He has total command of his pitches, can work both sides of the plate, and has good movement on everything. But he’s also emotionally in control at all times.
It’s always telling to me how guys who are used to having success react when they get hit around a little bit. And with Corey, he continues to go about his game in the same way as he would if he were throwing a complete game shutout. With him, it’s always the same mentality, body language and focus.
Danny Duffy (7 for 29, .241 against, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs, 4 Ks):
All the really great pitchers in our game have an ability to throw a lot of pitches with a ton of movement. But Danny’s fastball from the left side is just different. It’s tough to describe. It’s got so much life to it, and he’s got good control at the top of the zone. So when he throws his four-seam fastball with all that velocity — and then you add in the fact that he hides it so well — it just becomes a very difficult pitch to lay off of. Then he has a curve that starts where his fastball starts but drops to the bottom of the zone. It’s a killer combination to righties.
When it comes to makeup, he’s sort of the opposite of Corey in that he has a little bit of swagger.
I played with Danny in the WBC — great guy, outspoken, dancing around all the time, loved to blast music — just a fun person to be around. And after you get to know guys personally, it makes things a bit different when you’re facing them. It becomes a little more of an ego thing. It’s kind of a fun bragging rights deal. And when you’re going against a guy like that, you’re not going to be bragging too often. So it makes it tough.
Andrew Miller (3 for 9, .333 against, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 2 Ks):
What can I say? I mean, ever since he moved to the bullpen, he’s become completely lights-out. It’s almost like a Randy Johnson–type look for one at bat, which makes it nearly impossible. If you’re facing someone dominant like that as a starting pitcher, sometimes you can wait him out a little bit and maybe get to him later in the game. But when you have to face Andrew Miller for one at bat, it’s pretty close to impossible.
Wipeout slider. Great velocity. Elbows and knees flying at you. He’s tall and lanky, and you really don’t know where the ball is coming from.
Hitting is all about timing. And when a guy is lanky like that, his stride is longer, his arm is coming through a little bit later, and you’re not sure when the ball is going to leave his hand. It’s not fun.
José Quintana (15 for 48, .313 against, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs, 6 Ks):
With him it’s all about command. He commands all five of his pitches and he can do whatever he wants with all of them. He can bounce them when he wants. He can backdoor them when he wants. He throws them to both sides of the plate. Plus, he can use any one of those pitches at any time in an at bat. You can never go up there guessing, because you just never know what you’re going to see. And you might see any one of those pitches at 3 and 2, as well, so he gets Ks in a ton of different ways.
He’s not going to blow you away with any one pitch, but it’s just the whole arsenal. And he’s so incredibly consistent. Every pitch he’s throwing is a competitive pitch. Every pitch has a purpose. And you know he’s not going to walk anybody, so you’re going to have to beat him. That’s going to be the case every time you face him. You’re never going to get off easy against him.
Kelvin Herrera (3 for 14, .214 against, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 Ks):
So here’s a pure flamethrower. He’s unique because he’s smaller than most pitchers you see who throw 100. But this guy can literally get it up around 100 anytime he wants.
What has made him even tougher, though, is that with experience he’s developed some solid secondary pitches. He’s learned how to throw his changeup and his slider. Last year was the first year that he started using his slider really effectively. Before that it used to be just fastball and changeup. So, in theory, you at least had a chance if you guessed right. But now he’s got three pitches and he’s still throwing 100.
This is someone you get two or three at bats against over the course of a season. So that makes it even more difficult. It’s almost just like close your eyes and swing.
When it comes down to it, though, we’ve been doing this since we were five years old. All of us at this level have been swinging a bat for so long that we kind of know what we need to do to get ready for 100. You’re still doing the same basic things you’ve done during every other at bat you’ve had throughout your life, it’s just that everything is coming at you a whole lot faster, and your margin for error is very, very small. But it’s still pretty much: See the ball, hit the ball.