Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/17/12
PHOENIX It sounds like sacrilege. It seems difficult to imagine. But it just might be true. The heir to Mariano Riveras cut fastball legacy could be Diamondbacks reliever Bryan Shaw. At least, thats what the Diamondbacks are saying two weeks into 2012. "It's as good as Rivera's," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said of Shaws cutter. "Right now, its harder than Rivera's. It cuts a lot, and it cuts hot. It can go down. It can go straight. Its just tough." New York Yankees closer Rivera will ride to the Hall of Fame on the strength of his cut fastball, which has earned him a major league-record 605 saves and counting. The pitch is so difficult to hit because it breaks away from a right-handed hitter at the last second. Now, Montero did not get a great look at Rivera's cutter the only time they faced each other in 2010, because Rivera intentionally walked him to load the bases. Still, others have made the comparison. "Some people say his cutter is like Rivera's. He throws a 94 mile-an-hour cutter. I'm not sure you can appreciate what that is on TV," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "I haven't stood up there (at the plate), but I see the results." In his first full season with the D-backs after spending three months with them in 2011, Shaw has emerged as potent weapon in late-game situations when closer J.J. Putz is unavailable. Shaw earned his first major league save April 8, when he got Buster Posey to ground out on an 0-2 cutter with runners on first and second to finish a 5-4 victory over San Francisco. Gibson turned to Shaw after Putz had saved the first two games of the series. Shaw got a four-out save to preserve a 5-2 victory Colorado on April 15, retiring all four batters he faced after getting out of a bases-loaded situation on a weak grounder to end the eighth. His numbers reflect his early dominance. Shaw has given up three hits and no earned runs in six innings this season, although he was tagged with a loss April 13 in Colorado when an error set up the go-ahead run in the eighth. He has eight strikeouts and no walks. "So far, he has a golden arm," Gibson said. It became apparent to the D-backs in the 2011 NLDS against Milwaukee. Shaw made four appearances and did not give up a hit in four innings. He retired the final 12 batters he faced after walking his first man in Game 1. What Gibson really likes is Shaws attack-mode approach. "He has a fearless attitude. He gets two strikes, he's coming at you. He's not going to nibble. We don't want to see that. You dont want to see a guy get two strikes and starting nibbling. The next thing, it's 3-2 and you have to make a great pitch," Gibson said. Shaw has always been a closer he was a second-round 2008 draft pick after filling that role at Long Beach State but the cutter was the last piece of his arsenal to go with a slider, a sinking fastball and a changeup. Shaw sort of stumbled on the cutter in the Instructional League in 2009, when he and teammate Wade Miley were playing catch at the D-backs' training facility in Tucson. The two had reached their innings limit for the season and were not pitching in games that fall, but they played catch to stay loose. Shaw saw that his ball had a lot of late movement when he changed his grip. "Basically, instead of coming over the top, I started coming about the ball a little bit," Shaw said. "Most people come over the top right here, but my hand is kind of cocked to the side just a little bit," he said, demonstrating by moving his right hand at a slight angle to the right. Shaw, 24, worked on developing the cutter during the 2010 season, when he was used both as a starter and a reliever, and it became his go-to pitch in 2011. "I was still trying to get the exact hand spot in 2010," he said. "It would sink every once in a while. Last year I really was able to locate it. Just like everything, you have to find the exact spot where you want to release it. Once you find the spot that works the best, you stick with it." Shaw was he was 3-1 with an 0.57 ERA in 15 appearances at Class AA Mobile before being promoted to Class AAA Reno in May and the D-backs in June. "He's impressive. Hopefully he doesn't know what he's got, because he's not that bright. But he's nasty," said Montero, needling his young teammate. "If he stays healthy, he is going to be a big key for us out of the bullpen. He's going to be a closer at some point in his career." Closing is Shaw's goal, as with most relievers. While Putz undoubtedly will remain in that role this year he has converted four saves this season after a career-high 45 saves in 2011 his contract expires after the season. David Hernandez is also in the "future" mix after a career-high 11 saves while filling in for Putz last year. Shaw shies away from comparisons with Rivera, as flattering as they may be. "Obviously, he's had it for many, many years," he said. "I think a lot of guys are trying to throw that pitch because of the success he has had pretty much throwing that one pitch mainly." "I've seen it. I've watched film. Obviously, everybody's is a little bit different. I'm just going to try to do what I do instead of try to make it like his." Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter
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