JUPITER, Fla. – Jason Motte has so much confidence in Yadier Molina that he’d throw a curveball in any count if his catcher signaled for one with him on the mound. And that’s saying something for a guy who doesn’t even have a curveball.
“I’d say OK and flip one up there if he called it,” Motte said. “And I’d do it with 100 percent confidence.”
It’s been a constant battle for Motte the past few years as he battles the urge to just throw his fastball as hard as he can every pitch while also realizing the need to mix in other pitches. And he’s back there again this spring.
After working on a cutter last season, Motte has turned his attention to a changeup. He began throwing it late in the 2012 season and worked on it during the offseason. Now he’s hoping to perfect the pitch this spring and take it with him to the mound on a more regular basis in the regular season.
“It’s a pitch I’m going to use,” Motte said. “It’s just like with my cutter and everything last year and in years past, it’s just getting to where I have the confidence in it. I threw it a good amount at the end of the year last year, just kind of messing with it. The last pitch of the year I threw last year was a changeup.
“I’ve been working on it. If you can do something like that that’s one more weapon you can have when you go out there and the more weapons you have the better it is.”
Motte tied for the league lead with 42 saves last season and posted a 2.75 ERA in 67 games. It was the third consecutive season the hard-throwing righty posted a sub-3 ERA as he continues to become one of the more dominant relief pitchers in the game.
And now he’s trying to get even better, making the changeup an emphasis during his bullpens and live batting practice sessions early in camp and during his first three appearances in games.
He’s given up two home runs this spring but neither have come on changeups. He threw a couple of good changeups to get outs during an appearance Friday in Kissimmee that drew unsolicited praise from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.
“It’s a pitch that may become a weapon for him,” Lilliquist. “It’s something he’s going to try to develop to be a big league pitch. If he has a four-seamer, a two-seamer and a cutter and a decent changeup, that’s just a different weapon.
“He’s actually the one that really has been working on it and trying to develop it in the offseason and now trying to make it a pitch in games here. He’s going to try to continue to try and throw it and we’ll see what it looks like.”
For a pitcher that routinely hits 100 MPH on the radar gun, throwing a changeup can certainly take some getting used to. Even with the cutter in his arsenal last year, Motte would routinely go to his bread and butter fastball because he felt most confident in it.
And sometimes that loyalty or confidence would backfire. When Motte would get beat with a fastball, fans and media would wonder why he didn’t throw the cutter. It’s a battle that Motte has fought the past few years and figures to fight again this year if he adds the changeup into the mix in the regular season.
One thing Motte doesn’t want to do is just make the changeup a waste pitch that he throws in the dirt once in a while. If he’s going to use it, he wants to be able to throw it for strikes in all counts and situations.
“With the way these guys hit, if you go up there and the only time you throw it is to waste it, then these guys aren’t going to swing at it,” said Motte, who grips it similar to a split-fingered fastball. “You have to prove you can throw it for a strike because if you don’t, they won’t even swing at it. Some guys have nasty stuff but if you can’t throw your off-speed for a strike, it can be the nastiest pitch in the world but if you don’t throw it for a strike it doesn’t matter.
“They will sit for the fastball. If I’m going to use it I have to pick and choose when I use it. I know with Yadi back there, it doesn’t mater if it’s 3-2 count with the bases loaded, if he calls it, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, lets do it.’”
Trevor Hoffman used a changeup to become one of the greatest closers in baseball history. The seven-time All-Star retired with 601 saves in 2010 and continued to be an effective reliever late in his career despite having a fastball that didn’t reach 90 miles per hour.
With Motte possessing a much harder fastball, the pitch could be an even greater benefit for him.
“It doesn’t matter how hard you throw,” Motte said. “A changeup is a good pitch regardless because if you can throw it and make it look like a fastball, it doesn’t matter if you throw 84. If you have something that looks like 84 and it’s 74, that’s a big difference.
“The whole point of the changeup is to throw it, and when I caught and we talked about it in years past as a hitter or whatever, you want to throw it in fastball counts so people think fastball and they swing at it like a fastball. You want swings and misses or miss-hits and guys to get it off the end of the bat.”
Asked how many times Motte threw his changeup in a game last season, Lilliquist jokingly estimated, “Probably zero.” Motte says it was more than that, including the final pitch he threw against the Giants when he got a weak ground ball up the third base line.
How much he throws it in 2013 remains to be seen.
“We’ll see,” said Motte, “It just depends on when Yadi calls it.”