ST. LOUIS – Jason Motte knows what the scouting reports say about him.
“I’m a fastball pitcher,” Motte said.
But that doesn’t mean he plans to change anything.
Despite a recent rough patch that included his fourth blown save of the season Sunday, Motte says he will continue to pitch the way he always has. Fast.
The hard-throwing Motte was one strike away from earning his 15th save of the season Sunday. Instead he tied Heath Bell for the National League lead in blown saves when the Royals’ Billy Butler turned on his 99 MPH fastball and sent it deep into the seats in left to tie the game.
“He guessed right and was able to hit it out of the ballpark,” Motte said. “It was pretty much the same pitch as the one that he swung right through the pitch before. He’s a good fastball hitter and it obviously wasn’t up enough or whatever but he was able to get the barrel on it.
“I don’t know if he shorted up or just cheated and was hoping I would throw the heater and he guessed right and put the barrel on it. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.”
With the Cardinals clinging to a 2-1 lead in the ninth, Motte quickly disposed of Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar on just seven pitches. He got ahead 0-2 on Butler, the second strike coming on a 98 MPH heater that he swung at and missed.
So Motte tried to go up the latter again, but Butler was ready for it. And just like that, the game was tied.
“I would have thrown the exact same pitch,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “He threw the same pitch by him twice. If he had thrown something else up there I probably would have been upset. He tried to climb the ladder again and Butler got on top.”
But it doesn’t appear to be a one-time thing that Butler guessed or cheated and hit one out of the park. More and more players are doing the same thing and the fastball-happy Motte might be playing right into their hands.
Eight of the nine pitches Motte threw in the ninth prior to Butler’s home run were four-seam fastballs. Only once, a cutter for a called strike to Escobar on the first pitch, did he come with anything but his power pitch.
Motte disagrees that he’s throwing his fastball too much and hitters are starting to time him. He points out that he’s thrown plenty of cutters and is not afraid to throw it in any situation.
But when told he had only thrown one cutter in the inning before the home run, Motte explained, “I had also thrown the ball by the two other guys and threw the ball by Butler. If I throw a cutter right there and he hits it into Big Mac land, you guys would be saying why the heck did you throw a cutter right there. It’s a double-edged sword.
“If I throw a cutter right there, you guys come in here saying he just swung through a 97 mph fastball so why didn’t you throw him another one. But because he hit a fastball, you guys are wondering why I didn’t throw something else. That’s the way it is.”
Motte had a 2.25 ERA in 68 innings last year and became the closer last September. He was on the mound for the final outs of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series.
But for whatever reason, things haven’t been as smooth in 2012. And a lot of the damage has been done by the home run. Motte has already allowed five home runs this year in 31 2/3 innings pitched compared to the two home runs he gave up last year more than double the innings.
And all of the five home runs have come in key situations, accounting for losses in two games and blown saves in two others.
With Motte possessing a fastball near 100 MPH that most hitters can’t catch up to, it brings up an interesting dilemma for the right-hander. Since he throws his fastball so much, other hitters might have started to just expect it every time.
“With me, not that they know a fastball is coming, but I’m a fastball pitcher,” Motte said. “I’ve had guys sit on it before and pop it up. To start off the next inning, Pena knew I was throwing him a fastball and he popped it up.
“That’s not the pitch (that’s the problem). That’s absurd. I’m going to keep throwing fastballs.”
The problem is tough for Motte. His best pitch is his fastball and that’s the one he throws the most. But it becomes easier for opposing players to hit it if they pretty much know that’s what is coming.
Motte challenges the notion that he throws too many fastballs, saying, “It’s not like I don’t throw my cutter. I threw it (Saturday) probably more than I did any other pitch and one of the games against the White Sox and I think I threw seven pitches in an inning and four of them were cutters. It’s not like I don’t throw it. If you watch the game, I throw cutters.”
But he also throws fastballs. Plenty of them. And despite the recent struggles, he doesn’t plan to change anything. He says he’s throwing his cutter enough to keep the hitters off balance and attributes the barrage of home runs to pitches that were up in the strike zone.
So get ready for more of the same.
“I’m going to continue to throw fastballs,” Motte said. “I’m not going to go out there and all of a sudden become a curveball-knuckleball guy.”