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Kramer getting a good grip on UH pitching


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POSTED: Friday, January 30, 2009

Jayson Kramer heads into the season that starts in a couple of weeks with double the pitches. Does that make him double the pitcher?

A reliever his first three years, the Mid-Pac grad could be the X-factor for Hawaii. If he successfully converts to a starter, it alleviates pressure on the rest of the staff.

Coach Mike Trapasso says the right-hander was previously just a fastball and curve guy. He's developed new weapons during a productive offseason that also included lots of weight training.

"Now he's a four-pitches-with-command guy," Trapasso says.

Fastball, curve, change-up and cutter. It used to be just the first two.

Well, OK, he did previously throw a change, too, but it wasn't reliable enough for tough situations. So Trapasso has him alter the grip. And in less time than it takes to microwave a frozen burrito, Kramer has a new pitch.

"In a 5-minute span he was throwing effective strikes," Trapasso says. "And he got the cutter going."

Basically the same thing as a slider. But cutter sounds meaner. A fastball with more movement, rather than a fastball with less velocity. You hear about hanging sliders going over the fence all the time. Hanging cutter? Not so much.

That's why Trapasso prefers to call it a cutter.

There's a lot of psychology involved in working with young pitchers, even a college senior like Kramer.

"Personally, I think he has the best stuff on the team," catcher Landon Hernandez says of him. "He's just got to be aggressive with all his pitches. That's all pitchers. They try to be perfectionists."

Pitchers, Trapasso says, are not supposed to strive for perfection in their deliveries. It seems counter-intuitive, but it makes, well, perfect sense. A perfect pitch is usually on the corner of the strike zone where the batter is most vulnerable. But striving to make this pitch often leads to a ball. Balls lead to hitters getting the advantage.

"Especially early in the game you want to get outs, efficiently, to develop a rhythm," Hernandez says. "You don't want to be too fine, you want to use your fielders, and get them back in quickly to hit. But you don't just let (opponents) rake or smash on you. You want to be fine, but you're not looking for perfection."

We're conditioned to believe thinking pitchers are the best. Painting the corners, going up the ladder, inside-out, blah, blah, blah ... confound the batters and keep them guessing, baffle them with your brilliance.

"Sometimes you just have to trust your stuff and throw it over the plate," Trapasso says. "If you're going to go down, go down in flames."

Pitching's about a lot of things. Economy of effort, physical and psychological, is one that gets forgotten about.

This is especially important for starters, who are expected to manage their way through anywhere from five to nine innings. Kramer relishes this challenge.

"Oh man, I can't wait," he says. "I've been looking forward to this for a while. I finally get my chance."

Trapasso wants Kramer to be more aggressive, to "pitch to contact." Let the batters hit it, but on your terms. That's how you get meek grounders and harmless pop-ups.

And four effective pitches makes this much more likely.

Jayson Kramer and the rest of the Rainbows hurlers just have to remember that perfect pitches don't lead to perfect games.