Takes a No. 1 to know a No. 1
One day last summer, Johnson threw his standard bullpen session between starts, and as he finished his work, he noticed that in the home bullpen in Philadelphia, Halladay was about to start a bullpen session of his own. Johnson asked Rich Dubee, the Phillies' pitching coach, if Halladay would mind if he watched -- and after checking with the Philadelphia ace, Dubee said that would be fine.
So like a kid in the stands, Johnson took a seat and watched Halladay go through his work, and he was struck by how consistent Halladay's delivery is, regardless of what pitch he was throwing. "Exactly the same with every single pitch," Johnson recalled, in a phone conversation on Monday evening.
Both pitchers were named to the National League All-Star team, and Johnson naturally gravitated toward Halladay -- feeling that he shouldn't pass up an opportunity to be around someone so good at his craft -- and took a seat next to him during one of the All-Stars' bus rides.
Coming into this season, what Johnson thought most about was trying to give himself a chance to pitch deeper into games, by getting more groundballs with a curveball and changeup, by being more efficient in his pitch count.
"The guy who I'm facing tomorrow," Johnson said, "is the ultimate in doing that."
Around the league
• Brett Anderson, who starts for Oakland today, has one of the best breaking balls in the majors -- three, in fact.
Anderson explained the other day that he actually uses the same grip to throw three different breaking balls, at three distinct speeds. Anderson has small hands, and he just spreads his fingers differently over the ball to alter the speeds, off the same spiked-finger grip. "I think I'm the only guy who throws a spike slider," said Anderson, who grew up as something of a baseball field rat, as the son of Oklahoma State baseball coach Frank Anderson.
The slowest of Anderson's three breaking balls is a curveball, which spins in the 78-81 mph range; the next is what Anderson referred to as a slurve, with a little more velocity. And the hardest breaking ball that Anderson throws is what he calls his slider, at about 83-85 mph. He changes speeds with the different breaking balls constantly.
It must be working for him, because Anderson will take a 2.77 ERA into his start tonight. Here's more on Anderson's breaking pitches, from Lee Singer of ESPN Stats & Information:
"Any way you slice it, Anderson is throwing his breaking balls more often this year. If we combine sliders and curveballs, his 65 breaking balls last night would still rank as the second-most by any starter this season and the 10th-most in the last three seasons. Here's a few different looks at how he's adjusted this season: He throws it 48.9 percent of the time in 2011, after throwing it 39.8 percent of the time in the previous two seasons. That has decreased both his fastball rate -- 45.5 percent vs. 52.7 percent in 2009-10 -- and his changeup rate. He throws the change just 5.5 percent of the time now.
"Over the last three seasons, Anderson's sliders (per Inside Edge classification) have averaged 83.6 MPH, including just 80.7 MPH this season. Anderson's curveball, on the other hand, has averaged 79.3, with the velocity remaining very consistent each season. If we combine the breaking balls and look at velocity, we can get a better idea how often he's throwing each one. After throwing curves with a velocity of 82 mph and up 66.7 percent of the time in 2009-10, that number has fallen to just 13 percent in 2011. Instead, he's throwing more at 78-81.9 mph, a whopping 64.8 percent of his offerings. He's actually slowed down."
By the way: Anderson felt he didn't have his usual velocity at the outset of this season, but in his last start, he touched 95 mph, so there are signs he is rebuilding his usual fastball.
• The Mariners cut Milton Bradley -- as well as Ryan Langerhans -- as they try to find a way to jump-start their offense, which ranks 25th in runs and 29th in homers. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik explained over the phone on Monday that Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero, the two players who will be given more opportunity now that Bradley and Langerhans are out, are both power hitters. You get the sense that if Wilson and/or Peguero hit, then they'll continue to play, and if they don't hit, then the Mariners will keep searching.
But Zduriencik says that within the organization, there is a strong sense that the team is getting closer to getting where it needs to get to. Justin Smoak is off to a good start, Dustin Ackley continues to develop in the minors, and Seattle has the second pick in this year's draft. And, of course, the Mariners have Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda anchoring the rotation, probably for years to come.
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