In retrospect, A’s right-hander A.J. Griffin offered a fairly unflattering assessment of the cut fastball he threw as a secondary pitch for much of last season.
“It was like an 85 mile-an-hour thing that didn’t move,” Griffin said Monday. “It wasn’t too good.”
Not only did opposing hitters pounce on his cutter, Griffin said, he believes the strain and unfamiliarity of a pitch he only began throwing in 2011 may have contributed to the late-season elbow tendinitis that kept him out of the American League Division Series against Detroit.
As a result, Griffin, who led all A’s starters with 200 innings in 2013, has all but scrapped the cutter this spring. Instead, he’s focused on rediscovering his changeup, which he said “was like my bread-and-butter pitch” in the minor leagues.
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In his two-inning Cactus League debut Monday, Griffin said he threw no cutters and five to seven changeups, including “a few pretty good ones.” He was particularly pleased with one to Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis – a right-handed hitter – which in itself marks a shift, as Griffin used the changeup mostly against left-handers last season and the cutter against right-handers.
In the minors, Griffin said he figured he could throw the changeup “any time, any count and be able to get a good strike or throw it where I wanted to. I’m more of a command guy anyway, and if I can get my fastball and changeup on the same plane and throw them where I want, it’s a good combination to have.”
But Griffin said he drifted away from the pitch after joining the A’s because he wasn’t finishing it with conviction and was trying to hone the cutter at the same time. While the cutter worked well during his first call-up with the A’s in 2012, it became inconsistent last year, and Griffin said in reaction to the lack of results: “I was trying to do too much with it, and that’s when I started feeling the problems that I had.”
“It was my fourth-best pitch, and I didn’t have much conviction in it anyway,” he continued. “So when I’d get that sign, I’d be like, ‘We have to make this one good.’ And then I’d overthrow it and do all that kind of dumb stuff.”
The resulting wear on his arm – generating the movement on a cutter or slider is usually regarded as more taxing than a changeup, for which the arm action is more like a fastball – ended up “kind of taking its toll on me,” Griffin said.
While he still went 3-1 in September – part of a year in which Griffin won 14 games and held opposing hitters to a .226 batting average – the 26-year-old said he felt himself tiring down the stretch.
“I was going out there at the end of the year, throwing four innings and not feeling right,” he said. “It was just like progressively more and more a dead arm-type thing.”
Griffin said the decision to move away from the cutter was his. He also spent much of the offseason in Arizona working with the A’s staff on his conditioning and said he currently weighs about 235 pounds, compared to 250 at the start of camp last spring.
He’s already feeling results. After his two innings Monday, Griffin said: “I wasn’t tired at all. Last year, I was sucking wind my first three outings or something.”
Griffin allowed two runs on a two-out triple by Dee Gordon in the second inning of the A’s 7-3 win over the Dodgers. He gave up four hits and struck out two, with manager Bob Melvin saying he “threw the ball well” for his first spring outing and that Griffin’s “breaking stuff was really good.”
As for whether going away from the cutter is a good idea, Melvin said that will “depend on how much (Griffin) uses his changeup. But that’s a pitch that he struggled with some last year, whether it was a slider or cutter – he was trying to find the right break for it. So it’s not a bad idea to add a changeup off his fastball.”