(Sunday's Union Leader story, thanks to deadlines, was written before Okajima gave up back-to-back hits in relief of Clay Buchholz on Saturday. Bad timing. Sorry. For what it's worth, nothing was over the middle on Saturday, either.)
Hideki Okajima doesn't get his outs with his raw stuff. He gets his outs with impeccable control.
"He locates really, really well," fellow reliever Manny Delcarmen said. "You could throw 150 (miles per hour), but if it’s down the middle, it’s going to get hit -- and he doesn’t need to throw 100. He locates and keeps the hitters really, really off-balance."
Some pitchers occasionally can avoid throwing the ball down the middle. Few, though, use the edges of the plate like Okajima. Even when he's getting hit, it's not because he's missing his spots. Check out the following three charts:
1. From a game in April in which he gave up two earned runs on four hits and failed to record an out:
2. From a game in June in which he allowed one run in two innings:
3. From the extra-innings adventure in New York earlier this month in which he threw 1 1/3 hitless innings:
In those three outings, you can find a grand total of about two pitches you could classify as in the danger zone -- and nothing right down the middle of the plate.
There's a reason Okajima hasn't yet accumulated an ERA of 3.00 in a season. His stuff might be above average, but his ability to locate his pitches is sensational.