PORT CHARLOTTE — They call it “The Thing.” It is kind of a splitter, kind of a change-up. It has some speed, but not a lot, and it drops at the end.
It made Alex Cobb into one of the best young pitchers in the game last season. It can take Jake Odorizzi to a spot in the season-opening rotation this spring.
“As we say (Odorizzi has) been ‘Cobbed,’ and that’s where that split/change-up freakazoid pitch is coming from, and it looks pretty good,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Cobb learned to throw “The Thing” six years ago when he was pitching in low Class A. Odorizzi learned to throw the pitch a few weeks ago.
“I had an all right change-up. It wasn’t anything special, wasn’t anything terrible. It was just average,” Odorizzi said. “I wanted something I could throw more consistent and have more movement as opposed to speed-wise. I don’t know how they are speed-wise compared to each other, but the movement alone on the new pitch makes a world of difference, honestly. Even if it’s bad, it’s got movement.”
Odorizzi plays catch with Cobb before every workout. After being on the receiving end of “The Thing” every morning, Odorizzi asked Cobb to show him the grip. The two are similar pitchers with similar arm slots.
If it works for Cobb, Odorizzi thought, it should work for him.
“I just thought I could make myself better by using something that’s been proven to work for somebody else who is somewhat similar,” Odorizzi said.
Odorizzi made four starts for the Rays in 2013. He pitched in relief in three other games. He was a better pitcher each time he was recalled.
Odorizzi is vying with Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos for the final spot in the rotation, the guy who will pick up the starts missed by Jeremy Hellickson while Hellickson rehabs from right elbow surgery.
Odorizzi has pitched twice this spring, working an inning in relief both times. He threw “The Thing” almost extensively in each outing.
“At this point there’s nothing wrong with throwing it to death,” Odorizzi said. “My other pitches are fine right now. They feel perfect.”
But, Odorizzi wants to get a start, hopefully more, so he can go through his normal pre-start routine and so he can work his new pitch into his regular repertoire.
“It’s been a quick transition,” Odorizzi said. “But I’m confident in it already, which is a good thing to have when you’re trying something new.”
It was Hellickson who last season came up with the name of the pitch.
“It’s not a change-up. It’s not a splitter. I don’t know. It’s a thing,” Hellickson said.
With Cobb’s pitch dubbed “The Thing,” Odorizzi said he might call his “Thing Two.”
Cobb said he threw a splitter while pitching for Vero Beach High. The Rays told him to shelve the pitch when he joined the organization in 2006. Three seasons later, pitching coach Bill Maloney showed Cobb a grip that was a hybrid of a change-up and splitter.
“Am I allowed to throw this?” Cobb asked.
Yep, Maloney said.
Cobb used that pitch rather than developing a pure change-up.
“That’s how it got the name split/change so I can tell the organization I throw a change,” Cobb said. “It’s really just a splitter. ... It’s been my best pitch. I was very fortunate to have him to show me.”
And one February morning on a backfield at Charlotte Sports Park, Cobb showed Odorizzi the grip.
Would Cobb have been as eager to show Odorizzi the pitch if they were competing for spots in the rotation?
“I’m not competing with him so I can’t really say,” Cobb said. “I would absolutely love to tell you that I would.”
Cobb added that he does enjoy helping his teammates, and pitchers asking other pitchers how they throw certain pitches is a daily occurrence in the big leagues.
“In my view right now we need him,” Cobb said. “I want to win, and he’s going to be a huge part of that at some point during the season, so whatever I can do to help him help us win, I think is kind of all of our jobs and duties right now as teammates.”