AFL Beat: Pignatiello's Role Defined

Since the Arizona Fall League kicked off earlier this month, Pat Listach has tried to work Carmen Pignatiello in against as many left-handers as possible. The reason behind Listach's maneuvers is simple ...

... the Cubs see the 24-year-old southpaw as a specialist against left-handers.

"Eventually, I think he might be a situational guy that you can bring in just against a lefty," said Listach, who has managed Pignatiello both in the Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox and at Double-A this past season.

Pignatiello spent most all of 2006 at Double-A West Tennessee with a late-season promotion to Triple-A Iowa. In 37 appearances from the Diamond Jaxx bullpen, he was 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA. He held lefties to a .222 average against, allowing 18 hits to 91 batters faced.

"Pat has tried to bring me into situations where there were a lot of lefties in the lineup," said Pignatiello. "I think that's their main goal and what they want me to do."

Through the first two-plus weeks of the Fall League, Pignatiello has faced six left-handed batters and eight right-handers.

Listach himself says he could see Pignatiello filling a role similar to that of such big league relievers as Brian Fuentes and Mike Myers.

"He might be one of those Ray King-type guys," Listach said.

Before that happens, though, both Listach and Pignatiello realize there's work to be done, and it starts with the left-hander developing better command of his fastball.

Listach said it's the "big thing that he has to work on now," adding that he'd like to see Pignatiello increase his velocity and be "a little better of a fielder at his position."

In Pignatiello's case, walks aren't the problem (he issued 21 in 67 innings in 2006 and has almost a full three-to-one strikeout to walk ratio throughout his career) with regards to command. Rather, it's all about the placement of his pitches, in particular the fastball.

"Throughout my career, I haven't really walked that many guys," he notes. "It's just that they want me to throw more quality pitches with my fastball. I can throw strikes with it, but where in the strike zone? Is it on the corner, or the outer third? They want to get me to where I can throw it on both sides of the plate and hit that corner all the time."

"It's very important to throw strikes on both sides of the plate with the fastball," he said.

Pignatiello's fastball routinely registers in the upper 80s to low 90s, but his most consistent pitch is his breaking ball.

"He's a guy with a great curveball and everyone knows he's got the curveball," Listach said.

Now, the key is to put everything together with all of his pitches. Pignatiello is hoping to use the Fall League to do just that, but he'll have to wait a few days after recently injuring his non-throwing hand in an off-the-field accident at his home.

"I've been really focused on throwing more strikes with that (fastball) instead of showing my breaking ball so early in the count," Pignatiello said of his work in the Fall League thus far.

"I'm more of a guy that's going work you away," he confesses. "I'll come in occasionally, but when guys start leaning on the plate, you're going to have to be able to come in and move them off and also throw a strike. If you come in and just move their feet a little, they know you're not going to be able to throw it for a strike; they're just going to lay off it and you're not going to get many strikes there."

Perhaps the best part about Pignatiello honing his skills in the Fall League is the level of stiff competition.

"These guys are the cream of the crop," Pignatiello said. "Every hitter is a good hitter. Usually during the year, your 7-8-9 hitters are not guys that are going to hit the ball out of the park or drive runs in. They're more contact hitters. But here, everyone has the capability with one swing of the bat to put the ball out of the ballpark. You have to concentrate very hard on every hitter, because there are no easy outs in the lineup."

And at the end of the day?

"The big thing is just getting left-handers out," Pignatiello said. "That's really my main goal right now."

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