Josh Kinney doesn’t throw sliders on every pitch, it just seems that way.
The numbers show that the 33-year-old Seattle Mariners reliever isn’t a one-trick, one-pitch pitcher.
According to Fangraphs.com, Kinney, who signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, throws his slider 54.4 percent of the time, which ranks him eighth highest in the league.
“Right around 50 percent?” Kinney said. “That’s good. I’ll take that. That means you have a 50-50 chance of seeing it.”
But when it comes down to it, throwing the slider is what has gotten Kinney to the major leagues. It’s his best pitch. And he’s going to use it.
“I’ve made it this far in the game using it,” he said. “It’s gotten me here.”
And he plans on staying. He has appeared in 10 games for the Mariners, posting a 2.08 ERA in 82/3 innings with 14 strikeouts and five walks. Sometimes he faces one hitter, sometimes he’ll pitch one inning.
Even with that small sample size, he has impressed Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
“He has a little bit of experience,” Wedge said. “He’s a competitor. He brings some intensity when he’s out there pitching. He brings focus. He’s done a nice job. He’s pitched some big innings for us.”
Some pitchers have spent their entire careers trying to figure out how to throw a slider or curveball and never quite master it. Mariners prospect and current Tacoma Rainier Cesar Jimenez comes to mind.
Kinney had no such problems during his high school days in Pennsylvania, his college years at Quincy (Ill.) University and his days in the independent Frontier League before signing as a minor league free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001.
“It’s been my strength,” he said. “It’s a pitch I’ve always had in my back pocket. I’ve always been able to throw it for a strike, and get a feel for it in the strike zone and out of it.”
But that doesn’t mean he will throw the slider every pitch. If he did, the pitch would lose its effectiveness.
It goes back to the 50-50 split that Kinney was so pleased about.
“As a hitter, you gotta guess,” he said. “If I was 75 percent sliders, then they can sit slider. They always adjust.”
Kinney’s game plan is simple: sliders and sinkers.
If you watch closely, lost in the multiple pitches that dart down and away to right-handed hitters are the carefully placed sinking fastballs that are on the inside half of the plate and moving farther in.
“I split the plate and will go either side,” he said.
Kinney’s willingness to throw the sinking fastball inside – usually around 91-93 mph – is what keeps hitters honest.
“He does a nice of job picking his spots to work one off the other,” Wedge said.
When he hit Derek Jeter on the hip, it was to keep the Yankee from striding to the plate to hit pitches to the opposite field like he prefers.
“I have to have both pitches to be effective,” he said. “Hitters have to know that you have something that runs in on them.”
Maybe the reason Kinney seems to be throwing sliders like he’s a young Brad Lidge is because the most memorable pitches he has thrown in his brief time with the Mariners have been sliders.
Take his last outing Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Kinney relieved in the top of the ninth with the Mariners leading 7-2. He struck out Yunel Escobar on a 1-2 slider.
The next hitter, Kelly Johnson, went down swinging on an 0-2 slider.
Kinney struck out the side by getting Rajai Davis swinging on a nasty 1-2 pitch. Want to guess what it was? Yep, a slider.
“I feel like if I’m going to beat a guy, I’m going to make them hit my best pitch,” he said. “If it’s the slider that day, and here lately, I have had a pretty good one, then that’s what I’m going to throw.”
For Kinney, it isn’t about dominating, it’s about outs. If that means using a slider more than most relievers, so be it. He’s never had classic reliever stuff.
“It’s complemented the fact that I can’t throw a fastball 100 miles per hour, or even 95,” he said. “I have movement, but I don’t have the velocity. One of my strengths is my breaking ball. It’s gotten me here. I’m going to keep using it.”