Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nick Green can throw a cutter

Nick Green and Victor Martinez didn't exactly have the most in-depth conversation in the world when the catcher visited the shortstop-turned-pitcher with two outs in the ninth inning.

Scott Podsednik was at the plate and had just taken a first-pitch fastball for a ball up and out of the zone. That had come on the heels of a walk issued to Jayson Nix -- and that had come on the heels of a walk to former Red Sox outfielder Mark Kotsay. ("I was so pissed I friggin' walked him," Green said.)

When Green missed with his first pitch to Podsednik, Martinez called time and made the trip out to the mound for a little light conversation.

"'Get on top of the ball,'" Martinez said he told Green. "You've got to expect that from a position player. You take ground balls and throw the ball to first, but it's not the same as throwing the ball from the mound to home plate."

Said Green, "He jabbered some stuff like, 'Get on top of the ball,' but I knew what I needed to do. He was just breaking it out. It wasn't really a conversation. We just said, 'Hello,' and he walked back."

It worked. Green threw a couple of four-seam fastballs and a two-seam fastball to Podsednik to get ahead in the count -- and to get two strikes on a hitter for the first time in his outing.

Podsednik then slashed at a fastball up in the zone and bounced it right back to Green on the mound. If you're a position player pitching, you'd better be able to field your position -- and Green scooped the ball without a problem. It was his throw over to first base that was the problem. For the second time in his outing, he threw a rocket to Casey Kotchman at first base in a situation that called for an underhand lob.

"It felt like I waited for him for 15 minutes to get over to first base," he said. "Usually, when I catch the ball at shortstop, I can throw it over and he's there. I catch it (on Thursday) and I'm like, 'Uh, uh, get over there!'"

"That was ridiculous," said Kevin Youkilis, who had moved from first base to third base earlier in the game. "I'm glad I wasn't playing first base. I would have thrown it back to him as hard as I could."

(Youkilis had to yell to Green at one point not to lick his fingers on the mound: "I was like, 'You can't do that anymore! You can do that in high school. You can't do that here!')

The last time Green pitched in a game was a decade or so ago as a freshman at Georgia Perimeter College, the alma mater of major leaguers Marlon Byrd and Robby Hammock. He didn't throw then much faster than he throws now -- and that's the only reason he even had a slider grip at all.

But the Red Sox were almost out of pitchers on a night in which rookie Junichi Tazawa could do nothing but leave the ball over the plate to get pounded. Billy Wagner had thrown a side session in the middle of the afternoon and wasn't available. Takashi Saito had slept on his neck wrong. He wasn't available, either. Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez and Jonathan Papelbon each had appeared twice already in the Chicago series and thus would have been pitching for the third time in four games. Beyond Manny Delcarmen, who pitched the sixth and seventh innings, there was no one left.

Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell approached Green in the third inning to ask him to pitch. Green didn't want to pitch, but he understood the bind his team was in.

"Given the situation tonight with two guys unavailable and two others having, if we pitched them tonight, it would have been three of the last four days," Farrell said. "While it's a never situation you envision yourself in, (Green) helped keep some guys from having to come in and pitch innings and kept us rested going into this series tomorrow."

Said Green, "He told me the way it was going to work: Manny two (innings) and Ramon one and then I would come in. I told Farrell, 'I'm going to be pitching the eighth?' I was like, 'Who's going to be pitching the ninth?'"

As it turned out, well, he was.

Green and Rocco Baldelli wandered back into the batting cage behind the dugout during the fourth or fifth inning, and Green began to experiment with whatever repertoire he had left.

"I know he's got a really strong arm from shortstop, and he looked pretty strong in the cage, too," said Baldelli, who replaced Jacoby Ellsbury in center field even before Green made his appearance on the mound. "When he got out there, it was actually moving, too. He was throwing some that were cutting, and he was throwing some that were tailing."

He then made the trip out to the bullpen and threw to Jason Varitek, the designated bullpen catcher of the evening. He further made refinements to his repertoire, ditching a changeup that "almost killed" the veteran catcher, he said.

But Varitek wasn't worried about his health as much as he was the health of a guy who's had more than 300 plate appearances for the Red Sox this season.

"You just don't want somebody to get hurt in that situation," he said. "We need Nick to be able to do his job. ... I hope wasn't overthrowing."

Green did not, in fact, overthrow. He hit 90 on the Fenway Park radar gun on his first pitch, eliciting the same type of reaction from the Fenway Park crowd that Bard gets when he hits 100. He threw 92 or 93 when he pitched in junior college but wasn't worried about speed on Thursday as much as he was getting the ball over the plate.

Did the Red Sox know he could hit 90? Nope.

"We know he's got well above-average arm strength for an infielder," Farrell said, "but you don't evaluate that arm strength for the thought that one day he'd be pitching on the mound."

As impressive as it was that he hit 90 miles an hour, his speed wasn't what got him his outs. His movement was what got him outs. Check out the chart:

The MLB Gameday system classified more of his pitches as cut fastballs (21) than regular two- or four-seam fastballs (12). That, he said, was completely unintentional.

"I didn't know it was going to move," he said. "I was trying to throw it straight. Well, not all the time. But for the most part, I was trying to throw it straight."

He threw one slider, burying it in the dirt to lefty Paul Konerko. But he wanted nothing more to do with his breaking ball after that.

"I actually shook Victor off one time," he said. "He wanted me to throw a slider, and I was like, 'Nah. I'll just throw a fastball.'"

His biggest issue throughout his outing was leaving the ball up in the zone, as is made obvious by his chart:

He even came away with a greater appreciation of how hard it is for the pitcher to hit the strike zone. The first pitch he threw to the first batter he faced was a fastball letter-high, and Jeff Nelson called it a ball.

"When I threw it, I thought it was a strike," he said. "I was like, 'That's a ball? Sweet. I don't know what I'm going to do to throw a strike.'"

In the book, though, it all goes down as two scoreless innings -- and a 0.00 ERA for his career. Bench coach Brad Mills even stuffed the lineup card into his locker after the game.

"I was talking to Billy Wagner," Green said, "and he was like, 'Yeah, if I'd thrown that many balls, I'd have given up four or five runs.' I was lucky to not give up a hit and no runs. It was fun."

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