Pitcher’s firing missiles again, but that’s not enoughLast season, I tied my fortunes to Park Chan-ho, but as his fortunes slid, so did mine. I said that he would bounce back and regain his old form. Instead Park, with the Texas Rangers, went on the disabled list and stayed there.
I am going to take the same stand again. No tears. No regrets. During spring training, we have seen how the Korean right-hander has worked on his fastball.
The 30-year-old’s performance at the time wasn’t earth-shattering. It was what it was. But when I heard that he got some of his speed back, I was struck by a ray of hope. And judging from his season opener this week against the Oakland A’s, I am willing to back up my favorite man again.
Throughout his career, Park has depended heavily on his fastball. But when the speed disappeared, he tried working his way through with other stuff. That’s when he got into trouble. He often fell behind in the count but without his fastball, batters just waited and hammered away, leaving him with a 7.58 ERA.
Park showed some pretty aggressive pitching in the A’s game and stayed ahead in the count most of the time. With 0-1 and 0-2 counts, he was able to expand the strike zone and had room to work the corners.
If he’d gotten going with a 1-0 count like he did last year, he probably would have depended on his fastball because his control is only average. Park has a reputation for hitting batters and giving up a few too many bases-on-balls.
No matter how powerful his fastball is, a big-league batter who’s prepared for a fastball entering the strike zone has a pretty solid chance of putting good wood on it.
That’s why staying ahead in the count is like striking gold for a pitcher. By putting the batter in the hole and mixing up his deliveries, Park may bring down that ERA by unnerving the batters.
His two-seam fastball is slower than a four-seamer but shimmies more at the plate. Park’s two-seamer breaks like a slider parallel to the ground, though to a somewhat lesser degree, then moves toward a right-handed batter and away from a left-handed one.
He could keep batters from leaning over the plate with his two-seamer, which made them vulnerable to balls veering to the outside of the plate. To make this pitch work, he needs to work the corners with finesse; if those balls whiz over the fat part of the plate, the pitcher will pay dearly.
The Korean right-hander’s got a full plate, as he’s about to go up against Bartolo Colon of the Anaheim Angels and Jamie Moyer of the Seattle Mariners. Each had more than 20 wins to his name last season, posting 3.87 and 3.27 ERAs, respectively.
If Park can keep his two-seamer at the level he’s been throwing ― and mix it up from time to time with that sinking fastball he used in the first game ― he’ll continue to see success.
His ball looked pretty heavy, and with the occasional bite going down on the batter, opponents will have a tough time against him.
That he walked only one batter in the opening game was also a promising sign of things to come. I always believed that Park’s good stuff was far from over.
While I have confidence in him, if confidence is all he needs, he should take a good look at the 42-year-old Moyer, who has consistently put up 16 wins per season, on average, since 1996.
by Brian Lee