Jesse Chavez, Changing Spins and Speed

Jesse Chavez's first start in a year-and-a-half brought wonder in how he was so effective, while staying within a four mile-per-hour range throughout the night.


ANAHEIM -- Instead of sitting alone in an empty clubhouse, a 33-year-old man trekked outside to the fresh Southern California air and watched his teammates take batting practice. Sitting on the top step of the Angels dugout in a red sleeve cut sweatshirt was Jesse Chavez.

In just a few hours, he would make his first appearance in that same red hue, but instead of a sweatshirt, a full uniform. Pants, jersey, cleats, and for the first time in 580 days, he'd throw out the first pitch of the game.

"Watching the guys do work, watching the guys get ready," said Chavez. "I do that every start. I try and watch them warm up and watch them prepare and it gives me that extra motivation. If they're out there getting ready I have to do my job and get ready."

Ready, prepared and motivated, Chavez hurled a 94 MPH fastball to the plate at 7:08 local time and was creating his first start in over a year-and-a-half, and first game of 2017 at Angel Stadium.

"It's something that I cherished and something I wanted to do well with and give the guys a chance," Chavez continued.

88 more times the Fontana native would throw the five-ounce ball to his catcher Martin Maldonado. It would help him create 17 outs, or five-and-two-third innings total, and give his team that chance he desired. One run scored over the affair, but the intrigue wasn't in the statistics.

Six separate pitches were thrown, but a variation of four all began at the same initial velocity, with a differentiating break within the final five feet of it's 60 feet travel to the plate.

The standard four-seam fastball, which is in every pitcher's repertoire; along with a two-seam fastball with running and sinking movement; a cutter, with late cutting action; and a changeup, with some dive and depth. These were the four pitches that helped Jesse Chavez be successful on Friday night, and throughout his nine-year career.

What made Chavez's situation so peculiar is that the velocity of each pitch for the standard pitcher, ranges by a fair margin. For Chavez, the difference between the averages between the quartet was just 4.01 miles-per-hour. An average four-seam of 92.43 MPH; cutter, 91.21 MPH; two-seam, 91.39 MPH; and changeup, 88.42 MPH.

Even the best hitters struggle against changing speeds, but all the more challenging is the task of guessing what break a pitch will have when four different breaks could be coming your way at the same speed.

"When the ball leaves his hand, you see fastball, and you start to attack it," said Cliff Pennington, teammate of Chavez. "You don't know which way it's going to go... It's a tough combo, one that he's one of the better guys at doing."

While being challenging to see or read the break is being able to react quickly enough to a pitch that will land in the zone. Of the 89 pitches Chavez threw during the home opener, 79 were of the fastball or changeup variety, with 57 being strikes, or over 72%.

"With Jesse, it's his ability to make 'X's' on both corners," the left-hitting Pennington continued. "He can start a two-seamer on the outside corner, run it off, and you chase it. Then he can start a cutter off the outside corner and bring it back in, and he can the same thing on the inside corner. As a hitter, it's a nightmare."

When you picture the ball when it reaches the plate, a batter could be swinging at what he imagines is a fastball down broad way, but instead darts away in either direction or falls off the table, allowing weak contact. It takes a sturdy defense behind a pitcher like Chavez to be prepared for this contact, and he believes the eight men behind him are the finest there are.

"Hands down I think it's the best in the game," Chavez said of his defense. "Anywhere you look there's a quality defender. Let those guys do work. Throw the ball in the zone and let the guys put it in play and watch these guys do what they're supposed to do, and that's their natural talent which is unbelievable."

The defense has a similar feeling towards their pitcher.

"When he's on the mound he has a good tempo," said Angels first baseman, C.J. Cron. "He's keeping the defense involved which we like out there. He's been a pleasure to play behind."

Never altering his attack or approach on the mound, Chavez has the utmost faith in his own talents, and in the one he's delivering the pitch to.

"I try to go to all four quadrants; up-and-in, up-and-away, down-and-in, down-and-away," Chavez stated. "The two guys we have behind the dish each night (Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez), it's something that they do their homework on and put it in our hands."

In front of 43,911 fans - including multiple members of Chavez's family - the nine-year veteran delivered an outing worthy of claiming a victory. 17 outs, four hits, one walk, one run and six strikeouts.

The Angels can only hope that each performance following Friday night's will be similar to this one, mixing breaks and keeping hitters guessing during each at bat.

"Adding and subtracting speeds with his fastball, that's pitching," exclaimed Angels outfielder, Cameron Maybin. "Adding, subtracting and never pitching a guy the same way. That gave him a chance to do what he did and he was pretty good tonight."


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