tampabay.com

New pitch is born out of compromise

Doug Waechter says his "splange" came about when he found a midpoint between his grips for a changeup and a splitter.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 30, 2006


BALTIMORE - When Doug Waechter was warming up to pitch in Boston on Thursday, he didn't have a good feel for the split-finger fastball he had debuted in his previous start.

He fidgeted with his grip until it felt comfortable and ended up somewhere between how he holds the ball for a splitter and how he holds it for a changeup, with his index finger on the side of the ball and his middle finger on a seam.

From that, the "splange" was born.

"I just figured I'd compromise. I decided I'd grip it right in between and let it rip," Waechter said. "I'd never even thought about it before. It was one of those things that just comes to you."

Waechter figures he threw the "splange" about eight times Thursday, including several to Boston slugger Manny Ramirez, and usually with good results. It isn't as hard as his fastball, and it dropped dramatically out of the strike zone.

He plans to throw more "splanges" again tonight when he starts against the Orioles. "It worked, so I might as well stick with it," he said.

Waechter may have invented the pitch, but manager Joe Maddon took credit for the name. Pitching coach Mike Butcher was working the other direction, trying to call it a "chitter," but Maddon liked the sound of "splange."

TOUGH TIMES: The Rays were swept in the four-game series in Boston, are 1-6 on the first two legs of the seasonlong road trip and are a season-worst nine games under .500 at 21-30.

"It's been tough," shortstop Julio Lugo said. "It's very challenging. We've played some good baseball, but we haven't come out with the wins."

OVER THE TOP: Joey Gathright admitted that he didn't make much of an attempt to run over Boston catcher Doug Mirabelli on Sunday's game-ending play at the plate, and the fact that Gathright has had shoulder problems and Mirabelli outweighed him by at least 50 pounds were probably good reasons for his decision.

But did Gathright - known for bizarre ability to jump over cars - consider going over Mirabelli rather than through him?

"I was going full speed," Gathright said. "If I'd have jumped I would have landed in the grass somewhere."

PITCHING IN: Left-hander Casey Fossum, placed on the disabled list after Saturday's game, said his strained groin, which first became an issue May 19, has been feeling increasingly better and he would expect to be ready to pitch when eligible to be reinstated June 9.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: When Mirabelli couldn't catch the ball after Greg Norton swung at what would have been a game-ending third strike Sunday, the Rays were able to extend the inning enough to have a chance to win.

Maddon after the game connected that play with a famous one from Game 4 of the 1941 World Series, when Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen's dropped a third strike with two outs in the ninth allowed New York's Tommy Henrich to reach first and the Yankees to rally for a 7-4 victory. "The old Tommy Henrich third strike goes to the backstop, and all of a sudden we're back in the game," Maddon said.

WELL-RESTED: Third baseman Aubrey Huff, 11-for-73 since coming off the disabled list, and catcher Toby Hall, 5-for-21 on the road trip, were both rested Sunday so they could have two full days off. "I thought I'd give them both a deuce going into Tuesday, and I thought it would refresh them," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: James Shields, who was called up from Triple-A Durham to make his major-league debut Wednesday, is expected to join the team today. ... The Rays have until midnight tonight to sign pitcher Bryan Morris, their third-round pick in last year's draft, before losing his rights. ... Outfielder Rocco Baldelli was 1-for-4 in another rehab game for Triple-A Durham on Monday. He is 8-for-19 (.421) in six games with the Bulls. ... Second baseman Jorge Cantu was 0-for-3 with a walk as the DH for Double-A Montgomery in the first game of a weeklong rehab.