JUPITER, Fla. Jason Motte has so much confidence in Yadier Molina that hed throw a curveball in any count if his catcher signaled for one with him on the mound. And thats saying something for a guy who doesnt even have a curveball.
"Id say OK and flip one up there if he called it," Motte said. "And Id do it with 100 percent confidence."
Its been a constant battle for Motte the past few years as he battles the urge to just throw his fastball as hard as he can every pitch while also realizing the need to mix in other pitches. And hes back there again this spring.
After working on a cutter last season, Motte has turned his attention to a changeup. He began throwing it late in the 2012 season and worked on it during the offseason. Now hes hoping to perfect the pitch this spring and take it with him to the mound on a more regular basis in the regular season.
"Its a pitch Im going to use," Motte said. "Its just like with my cutter and everything last year and in years past, its just getting to where I have the confidence in it. I threw it a good amount at the end of the year last year, just kind of messing with it. The last pitch of the year I threw last year was a changeup.
"Ive been working on it. If you can do something like that thats one more weapon you can have when you go out there and the more weapons you have the better it is."
Motte tied for the league lead with 42 saves last season and posted a 2.75 ERA in 67 games. It was the third consecutive season the hard-throwing righty posted a sub-3 ERA as he continues to become one of the more dominant relief pitchers in the game.
And now hes trying to get even better, making the changeup an emphasis during his bullpens and live batting practice sessions early in camp and during his first three appearances in games.
Hes given up two home runs this spring but neither have come on changeups. He threw a couple of good changeups to get outs during an appearance Friday in Kissimmee that drew unsolicited praise from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist.
"Its a pitch that may become a weapon for him," Lilliquist. "Its something hes going to try to develop to be a big league pitch. If he has a four-seamer, a two-seamer and a cutter and a decent changeup, thats just a different weapon.
"Hes actually the one that really has been working on it and trying to develop it in the offseason and now trying to make it a pitch in games here. Hes going to try to continue to try and throw it and well see what it looks like."
For a pitcher that routinely hits 100 MPH on the radar gun, throwing a changeup can certainly take some getting used to. Even with the cutter in his arsenal last year, Motte would routinely go to his bread and butter fastball because he felt most confident in it.
And sometimes that loyalty or confidence would backfire. When Motte would get beat with a fastball, fans and media would wonder why he didnt throw the cutter. Its a battle that Motte has fought the past few years and figures to fight again this year if he adds the changeup into the mix in the regular season.
One thing Motte doesnt want to do is just make the changeup a waste pitch that he throws in the dirt once in a while. If hes going to use it, he wants to be able to throw it for strikes in all counts and situations.
"With the way these guys hit, if you go up there and the only time you throw it is to waste it, then these guys arent going to swing at it," said Motte, who grips it similar to a split-fingered fastball. "You have to prove you can throw it for a strike because if you dont, they wont even swing at it. Some guys have nasty stuff but if you cant throw your off-speed for a strike, it can be the nastiest pitch in the world but if you dont throw it for a strike it doesnt matter.
"They will sit for the fastball. If Im going to use it I have to pick and choose when I use it. I know with Yadi back there, it doesnt mater if its 3-2 count with the bases loaded, if he calls it, Ill be like, Yeah, lets do it."
Trevor Hoffman used a changeup to become one of the greatest closers in baseball history. The seven-time All-Star retired with 601 saves in 2010 and continued to be an effective reliever late in his career despite having a fastball that didnt reach 90 miles per hour.
With Motte possessing a much harder fastball, the pitch could be an even greater benefit for him.
"It doesnt matter how hard you throw," Motte said. "A changeup is a good pitch regardless because if you can throw it and make it look like a fastball, it doesnt matter if you throw 84. If you have something that looks like 84 and its 74, thats a big difference.
"The whole point of the changeup is to throw it, and when I caught and we talked about it in years past as a hitter or whatever, you want to throw it in fastball counts so people think fastball and they swing at it like a fastball. You want swings and misses or miss-hits and guys to get it off the end of the bat."
Asked how many times Motte threw his changeup in a game last season, Lilliquist jokingly estimated, "Probably zero." Motte says it was more than that, including the final pitch he threw against the Giants when he got a weak ground ball up the third base line.
How much he throws it in 2013 remains to be seen.
"Well see," said Motte, "It just depends on when Yadi calls it."