Thursday, April 25, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: M’s lefty Sheffield ‘seams’ to be dialed in

| August 24, 2020 1:14 AM

Justus Sheffield pitched a nice game Saturday night.

Unless you’re a true baseball junkie, though, you might have gotten a little lost during the Mariners’ 10-1 win over Texas.

Puzzling, though, the announcing crew got caught up discussing Sheffield’s pitch repertoire, and I’m guessing a good share of the audience was saying…


The whole conversation sounded like it belonged in a major league clubhouse, not on a telecast.

Sheffield, for his part, delivered a third straight quality start, allowing just a single run on six hits through six innings before manager Scott Servais — sitting on a fat 8-1 lead — decided to look at some young relievers.

Better yet, Sheffield walked just one hitter, a trend that’s continued since he walked four in his first start. He’s only allowed a total of four free passes since then.

Even more impressive, Sheffield (3.51 ERA) has allowed only two extra-base hits so far this year — both doubles.

NOW WE get to the confusing part.

For several innings, especially once the Mariners got that big lead, the announcing crew went on and on about how Sheffield had switched from a four-seam fastball — a pitch he featured last year — to a more reliable two-seam fastball.

Even pitching expert Bill Krueger was beamed in from the studio to add his enthusiasm for Sheff’s two-seamer.

“But maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Krueger said.

All this time, it was assumed that the entire audience understood the difference between the two pitches, which was never really explained.

I think I’m on solid ground when I suggest that a majority of viewers were glad Sheffield was pitching well — but had very little idea what the chit-chat about the two different fastballs was all about.

Here’s a quick overview…

A four-seam fastball generally has a few ticks more velocity than a two-seamer. It reaches the hitter on a straight line, and it’s wickedly effective when thrown to the top part of the strike zone.

If you can throw really hard, a four-seamer is generally easier to control and harder to hit.

A two-seam fastball obviously is gripped and released a little differently.

It has less velocity than the four-seamer, but when thrown correctly, it offers some maddening movement.

SHEFFIELD has adopted the two-seam fastball as his money pitch this year, and it works well in conjunction with his slider and changeup.

The two-seamer moves horizontally AWAY from the pitcher’s glove side — or right to left in Sheffield’s case.

It’s easier to put a bat on a two-seam fastball (partially because it’s usually thrown lower in the strike zone), but a lot of that contact isn’t too loud.

Pitchers throwing two-seamers hope to get a lot of quick outs and avoid getting deep into counts, which Sheffield did admirably on Saturday night.

Imagine a pitch to a right-handed hitter from the lefty Sheffield.

A two-seam fastball might start right over the middle of the plate, but then it drifts hard to the outer part of the plate — and poof, you’ve got an easy ground ball off the end of the bat.

Remember that the slider breaks TOWARD a pitcher’s glove side, so it’s a perfect complement to a two-seam fastball.

I’m sorry to tie you up with all this baseball jargon today — but nobody explains it on TV, and with that camera angle always looking over the pitcher’s shoulder, you can really start to learn what’s going on.

Hubba, hubba…

Play ball!


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the offseason.