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Firing Strikes - With Your Synapses!
by Derek Smart
It's a slow morning after an off-day, so for the moment I'll direct your attention to an article in this morning's Sun-Times that touches on the recent struggles of tonight's starter, Carlos Zambrano. Here is, to me, the most relevant passage:
"For some reason I become a thrower in the first two innings and not a pitcher," [Zambrano] said. "I want to be a pitcher and not a thrower. When you throw 94, 93 [mph] and locate your pitches, it's better than when you throw 98 and put the ball right down the middle."
This is an important point for Zambrano, and one he obviously hasn't implemented consistently in games yet. His stuff is so good that he's been able to get by many times without putting much thought into what he was doing, simply letting his velocity and movement get the outs for him.
Having that kind of stuff is wonderful, and it can be the difference between being good and being great, but when you already have that fantastic stuff, it's the thought process behind the pitches that makes the difference, and that's what we're waiting to see from Carlos.
On Sunday Mark Prior showed how pitch selection and execution can lead to easy dominance, and we saw the same thing from Greg Maddux after the second inning on Saturday. These are the sort of performances that Zambrano can watch and learn from, and hopefully he has.
When you use your brain on the mound and implement a sound strategy for each hitter, you don't need that wicked stuff to get outs. Location and pitch selection keep your opponent off balance, while velocity and movement become a fallback position of sorts, there to bail you out on the occasions when you miss your spot, rather than the thing you rely on pitch after pitch.
Zambrano is the filthiest of all the Cubs' dirty, dirty pitchers. The difference for him is that he hasn't put his mental game together yet, and until he does, he'll be a very good pitcher instead of the great one he can become. So the lesson here is to use your melon, Carlos. Use your melon, and own the league.