Adaptable arm stays on target

Pitcher Ryan Acosta's adjustable nature turns Marauders into a deep threat in postseason.

By BRANDON WRIGHT,Times Staff Writer
Published May 6, 2007

CLEARWATER - Conventional wisdom suggests the most important juncture of the season might be an ill-timed point for experimentation.

Don't tell that to Ryan Acosta.

The Clearwater Central Catholic right-hander picked an unorthodox time to tweak his repertoire, but the results suggest otherwise. Acosta said after CCC's 12-1 Class 3A region semifinal win against Melbourne Central Catholic that he's now using a split-finger pitch he learned "about a week ago."

"It's a pitch that goes well with all my other stuff, " Acosta said. "It felt natural right away."

What isn't "natural" is the sharp biting action Acosta has on the pitch. The split-finger, which darts down in the zone, is a perfect accent to Acosta's low 90s heater.

"I had good action on it Friday, " Acosta said. "I threw it a lot with two strikes."

Joining Acosta's curve and slider, his new "out pitch" was on display against the Hustlers. Acosta struck out eight, including five of six at one point.

"It just gives me another option, " he said.

And that is bad news for opposing hitters. The win ran Acosta's record to 6-3 and his ERA fell to 1.50. Couple Acosta with 9-0 Ryan Weber - the scheduled starter against Fort Pierce John Carroll on Tuesday - and the Marauders (23-4) have a tough 1-2 punch on the hill.

"I don't think (Acosta) had his best stuff (Friday), " CCC coach Todd Vaughan said. "But that's what good pitchers do: They get by when it's not all there."

Acosta said he had a knot in his arm muscle for the first couple of innings Friday before getting it worked out in the dugout. After giving up three hits and a run in the first inning, Acosta got the knot to go down and the numbers on the radar gun went up.

While Acosta is a power pitcher, Weber is the opposite. The junior righty, who has a 0.59 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 59 innings, leans on control and deception.

"They couldn't be any more different in terms of approach, " Vaughan said.

Everything from pitch sequences to their arm slot differs, but each has been outstanding in the postseason; Weber tossed a two-hit shutout against Bishop Verot in the playoff opener. And while their approach has been different, there is one thing the two share: a cantankerous mound attitude.

"About the only thing similar about the two is they're ornery, " Vaughan said. "But that's a good thing."

The two have also shouldered much of the workload after Joe McLemore, last year's team leader in wins, hurt his arm in the first game of the Dunedin Spring Classic. Vaughan said he had planned to bring in McLemore, who will not pitch again this season, to close games when the playoffs rolled around.

"Obviously, losing Joe was big but what were we going to do, throw the cards in?" Acosta said. "We just had to make adjustments. The games must go on."

Brandon Wright can be reached at bwright@sptimes.com or 727-89-2216.