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Mudville: November 29, 2022 4:46 am PDT
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A Pitching Ninja

The Lost Art of Pitching has been rediscovered by Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes as he simply continues to dominate hitters – sitting them down one after another. Cortes is the closest thing to Luis Tiant in today’s game and is a wonder to watch – and the rest of the Yankees’ starters have begun to follow suit.

Over the Yankees’ last five games, all wins, the starters are pitching to an 0.50 ERA; with 35 Ks over the 36 innings pitched to only four walks.

That’s pitching. That’s five pitching ninjas.

Not only because of Cortes’ command but because he makes today’s showcase, launch angle batter’s box dwellers (I refuse to call them hitters), look stupid. And that is happening right down the line for Yankee starters. They are feeding off each other’s success.

Cortes does it with the least amount of velocity of the five starters: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, and Jordan Montgomery. Cortes allows the bat holders to beat themselves with their tunnel-visioned approach to hitting and their uphill swings.

The only question I have is: why aren’t more pitchers modeling themselves after Cortes, using craft above robotic deliveries to throw off the timing of the modern day bat swinger?

Even the Nerds should be able to see that.

Simply put, Nestor Cortes is pitching.

He is not throwing. He is not trying to impress the radar gun world, he is using everything in his power to get hitters out. He toys with them and the results are stunning. Cortes is 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA for the Yankees over 60 innings pitched. He owns 68 Ks and 14 walks. Most hitters still try to pull everything Cortes delivers because it’s in their heads that his fastball is only 90.5 mph. The approach they should have against Cortes is to hit the ball the other way, but this generation of hitters seems to know only one way and Cortes recognizes that and destroys them with everything from a drop-down sinker to a hesitation fastball.

Nestor Cortes #65 of the New York Yankees looks on from the dugout during the third inning of Game Two of a doubleheader against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium on June 02, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

“It’s called pitching.’’

Oh, and there is one other thing. He pitches inside. Many of today’s pitchers will not pitch inside. The philosophy is pitch away, away, away, which plays right into the batter’s hands. Look at the damage Aaron Judge does away.

In all pitching matters I go to the experts and one such MLB talent evaluator, a former pitcher, is so happy to see what Cortes is doing. He wishes more pitchers would emulate Cortes.

“It’s called pitching,’’ the evaluator told BallNine. “The guys having success are not afraid to pitch inside, they are not afraid to pitch inside with some movement that stays off the barrel; and then you have a ball that is not flying – and that coupled with guys who have the same long swing out of their ass every time, every one of them, it creates holes. It creates holes that you can attack and get hitters out all day long.’’

That is the greatest definition of what is going on today in MLB that you will hear, pure baseball truth.

Teams that pitch away all game long will struggle. Teams where pitchers can’t command the baseball, will struggle. Teams where pitchers show no creativity will struggle.

“One thing I will say,’’ offered the evaluator, “is that some of the analytical people have some creativity to their sequencing. They pitch backwards. They throw breaking balls and changeups, then ride fastballs up into the zone, which to me, guys need to do.’’

It’s so obvious what needs to be done, and pitchers like Nestor Cortes are doing it out on the mound and they wind up striking out 68 bat holders while walking only 14 over 60 innings while posting a 1.50 ERA and holding those bat holders to a .178 average.

To see a breakdown of Cortes’ deliveries and approach, check out the Twitter feed of Rob Friedman: aka @PitchingNinja..

*****

Umpires have a tough job, but don’t make your job tougher by trying to do too much. Such was the case this week at second base when umpire Junior Valentine called out Rhys Hoskins for sliding into second saying it was a high spikes slide. It was a normal slide and you always begin your slide in such a fashion where your spikes don’t get caught in the ground; and by the time his legs were over the bag they were down. Just another example of baseball worrying about the wrong things. One of the great draws of the game used to be the action at second base. That’s no more the case. It’s a collision-free zone now.

“It’s really, really messed up,’’ one scout said with resignation in his voice.

Sounds like a new tag line. MLB: It’s Really, Really Messed Up.

 

*****

I was encouraged to see the Yankees let minor league pitcher Matt Sauer go into the seventh inning with a no-hitter this week. That happened at High-A Hudson Valley. “They actually sent him out for the seventh inning and he got through the inning,’’ said one scout. “He retired 21 in a row essentially because he got a double play after the base hit.’’ Hence, he faced the minimum number of batters in seven innings.

But the perfect game nightmare was relatively close to happening on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium when Jameson Taillon, who has also learned about throwing off the hitter’s timing, went into the eighth inning against the Angels with a perfect game, a 0-0 game. Perhaps the day will come in Rob Manfred’s world when a pitcher will have a perfect game and it will be 0-0 after nine innings.

And then in the 10th inning a baseball travesty will occur.

Because of Manfred’s ridiculous fake runner, a runner will appear out of nowhere on second base in a perfect game. Thus, a perfect game will be spoiled by the imperfect commissioner.

*****

The Phillies remain a mess because they don’t quite know what they want to be as a franchise. Clearly Bryce Harper is the power person in Philadelphia and I am not talking about just in the lineup. He has a lot of influence. Dave Dombrowski also didn’t clean house when he took over leadership of the team – and there’s a difference of philosophies in the organization due to key holdovers from the inept organization of former GM Matt Klentak.

Joe Girardi paid the price on Friday by getting fired; but with that bullpen, Girardi was a dead manager walking. Many in baseball believe that instead of spending money on outfielder Nick Castellanos, the Phillies and principal owner John Middleton would have been better served spending money on improving the bullpen and also upgrading the defense. The Phillies have not appeared in the postseason since 2012 and even more amazingly, in the last nine seasons they’ve finished under .500. That is some serious ineptitude. The Moneypit Phillies are totally embarrassed by what the Moneybag Mets are doing north of them in Queens. Until the Phillies figure out who they are as an organization, they will continue to struggle.

“A bunch of people that they still have there are not doing a very good job,’’ is what one evaluator who closely follows the Phillies told BallNine. “Some good baseball people have their hands tied because there are still people there who are all analytics. This whole generation of Phillies minor leaguers are going to be lost, with the exception of a few kids.’’

*****

The Blue Jays are getting hot and they still look like the only team in the AL East that can make a run at the Yankees. The Rays just don’t have enough hitters. Smoke and mirrors offense eventually catches up to Tampa. As for the Blue Jays, a scout offered, “If they get Ryu back and Ryu is Ryu for the rest of the year, and they get Tim Mayza back in their bullpen, got to get Julian Merryweather going, and I think they might need another bullpen piece so (Jordan) Romano doesn’t have to close every time they have to win a close game. They are trending in the right direction.’’

Manager Joe Girardi #25 of the Philadelphia Phillies argues a call of base runner interference with second base umpire Junior Valentine #115 on a ball hit by J.T. Realmuto #10 against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on May 31, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

*****

Dom Smith is back in the minor leagues for the Mets, but the truth is he had to be sent down. “I’m glad but sad for Dominick Smith. He needed to go and get regular at-bats and then get himself hot and hopefully they can trade him somewhere,’’ one scout said. “Buck (Showalter) is the only one who would figure that out, ‘Hey, he’s not playing here, let’s go get his bat hot and trade him.’ ’’

Perhaps the Mets can land a lefty reliever for Smith and if they don’t trade him he could pay dividends down the road for them. Everyone could use a good left-handed bat that hits to all fields, but for right now the Mets need to let Dom Smith play every day in the minors. He could be quite the addition at first base for some team.

*****

Save the Game is making strides with some big names joining Kevin Gallagher’s group that’s trying to save baseball by making the game better across the board for young players. My longtime friend Peter T. King, the former New York Congressman who represented the South Shore Long Island district for almost 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives – and a baseball fan at heart whom I would often see at Mets games and Mets minor league games – has been named to the advisory board of www.savethegameus.com, the grass roots effort designed to align with Major League Baseball to encourage youth participation in baseball and “Grow the Game.”

King is joined on the advisory board by five additional charter members: youth sports authority, Rick Wolff, the host of the “Sports Edge” on WFAN Radio, a publisher, and former minor league player and college coach; Mike Port, the former major league executive with the Red Sox, Angels, and Padres, and former MLB director of umpires; Queens native and Suffolk Sports Hall of Famer Fred Cambria, a former big league pitcher and instructor; the longtime Cubs scout, Brooklyn native and New York State Baseball Hall of Famer Billy Blitzer; and girls softball coach and Trumbull Little League (CT) executive board member Jeff Dobrydney, a senior vice president at JSG Commodities in Norwalk. That’s a ton of baseball knowledge and it will take that and more to get baseball going in the right direction again with America’s youth. People like Port will bring a critical eye to the multiple problems facing baseball.

*****

My Yogi Berra D-Day column was extremely well received this week because of Larry Berra, Yogi’s son, and his heartwarming stories about his dad and the impact D-Day had on Yogi, who was a machine gunner on a rocket boat at the Utah Beach. On Monday, the 78th anniversary of D-Day, let us all remember what the Greatest Generation did for America and the world. It would be nice if MLB took a minute in Sunday’s and Monday’s games to remember what happened on that day and the ensuing days after the event.

When Yogi opened up a bit after seeing “Saving Private Ryan’’ he talked about having to pull bodies from the water in the days after the landing and those memories were still difficult to deal with many decades later. My father also served in the Navy like Yogi and Bob Feller did; and he once told me of a similar difficult experience he had in the South Pacific while serving aboard the USS Izard, a Fletcher-class destroyer known by its patch as “Pacific Panther.’’ On July 4, 1944 the Izard was in a group that bombarded Iwo Jima. That was exactly nine years to the day before I was born. The ship received 12 battle stars for World War II service and served in 23 major campaigns from Tarawa to Iwo Jima and survived everything from typhoons to kamikaze attacks. Like Yogi, my father rarely talked about his exploits in the war. Yogi passed away September 22, 2015 at the age of 90. Bill Gardner, who served as a signalman on my father’s ship, also passed away in 2015 on April 22, 2015 at the age of 90.

But about a month earlier, Gardner did an interview and told Joe Lawlor of the Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine what it was like squinting through binoculars out at the summit of Mount Suribachi, where a few Marines were raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

“It was an emotional thing,’’ Gardner recalled. “The flag was a great sight. Everyone was cheering.’’

One day near the end of the battle, the Izard left its spot near shore to refuel and resupply.

“Not 10 seconds later, the ship that replaced us got hit,’’ Gardner told Lawlor. “I don’t know how many people died, but a lot of people died. The difference between winning and dying in war is as close as an eyelash. I don’t know why I’m here. Only God knows why.’’

After the battle was complete and the Izard was pulling away from Iwo Jima, Gardner said, “I remember as we passed the island we saw three (new) cemeteries with thousands of crosses and Stars of David.”

“It was just the way it was.’’

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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