As TJ Beam warms up in the bullpen before Monday night's fog shortened game, the sound of the ball hitting the glove is almost deafening. Not to mention, his effort in creating the velocity is next to nothing. However, the project of the session for TJ had nothing to do with the speed of his blazing fastball or anything related to his heater at all. He was working on his almost non-existent changeup. He has an excellent curve to team up with that great fastball but the changeup is something that must come. For Staten Island Yankees pitching coach, Dave Eiland it looked like struggle to get TJ to forget about "The [Radar] Gun".
TJ Beam was in good company on Monday night. He had his usual coach right behind him, Dave Eiland, and also some added outside input as well. The rehabbing Steve Karsay, who is close to returning to Bronx, stood alongside Eiland to watch Beam. The first five pitches that Beam threw to Troy Caradonna in the bullpen, that acts as a neighbor to "The Rally Cow" for the New Jersey Cardinals, were all fastballs. They were blazing, of course. Small children even started to gather to watch the spectacle. With each pitch, the smile grew on Beam's face as did the pop on his fastball. Then, Dave Eiland called him off the mound as he and Karsay discussed grips. It was about the only thing that could distract Karsay from the livestock that lay next to the bullpen. Beam returned to the muddy mound after a quick chat with Eiland and Karsay. His next pitch would be a changeup. It soared over the catcher, Caradonna's mask as he caught it up over his head. For those familiar with the changeup, up in the zone is not exactly the best location. All of a sudden, the children that marveled at Beam's fastball were now gone. And, his teammates that had turned their head to watch his fastball zip by, had now found something better to watch. The battle had begun. Beam was on the mound and no longer invincible. Sometimes it is hard for a confident young pitcher that dominated in the amateurs and simply blew the ball past batters to suddenly become a bit more intellectual. Consider Beam to be a microcosm of the world of young pitchers. This is where Dave Eiland comes in. "Let's see that change again Beam. Come on now. Let's see it," Eiland says encouragingly to Beam. One after another, the changeups sit up in he zone. Luckily for TJ, this is only warm-ups.
It may not have been something that he would love to be doing, but Steve Karsay chose to stick around for the remainder of TJ Beam's warm-up session. Maybe it was curiosity or maybe it was just that he saw Beam as a small part of him when he first came through the system. Karsay had that incredible fastball when he was drafted by the Blue Jays in 1990 but it wouldn't be his fastball that would make him into such a fine pitcher. So, it would be Karsay that put possibly the most valuable input to Beam. You would have to think that Beam might get the message better from someone like Karsay and that thought would be correct. "The fastball is great. How about this grip for the change," Karsay says to TJ Beam. To the pleasure of Dave Eiland, the next changeup was a beauty. It took over 5 MPH off the pitch just by the look from the naked eye and it was laid neatly over the outside corner and low. From there, the bullpen session went from a frustrating beginning to another minor victory against the radar gun menace.
The bullpen session with TJ Beam ended on a strong note as he found the handle on his fastball, changeup and his good curveball as well. Beam was all smiles heading into game time and when he readied for his time to take the mound against the Cardinals. Steve Karsay was there to offer his encouragement and a pat on the back. Maybe the change was small and not even visible to the typical fan but in the development of a young pitcher, that small bullpen session that took place on a foggy night in Northern New Jersey, could be a giant step for TJ Beam. He came out looking strong in the first inning as he zipped right through the top of the Cardinal lineup. There was also a noticeable buzz in the front row seats behind home plate. Beam, who was rated by Baseball America as having the best fastball in the Yankee Farm System, was lighting up the red digits on the radar gun.
The chatter grew in the front row as scouts became more and more impressed with Beam. His average fastball was coming home at about 94 MPH and he, several times cracked 96 and 97 MPH. But, his sinking fastball was also exceptional. "That is a real good moving fastball," one raving St. Louis Cardinals scout tells me. "He has something that is really diving down and away. The fastball has nice bite to it." So, at least we can identify that Beam does not fall into Hideki Irabu's category as having a perfectly straight fastball. "Then, he comes back with that four seam fastball. He can blow it by you. That two seamer is like 91-92 MPH but he can get it up to 96 MPH," the scout says. "I can't say enough about his fastball. He has a very fine young arm." "When he gets his curve over and he can at least keep the hitter honest with a changeup, he is real tough to beat." There it is, straight from a man that will, in many ways, determine a possible future for young pitcher's like TJ Beam. But, that small bullpen session certainly looked like a step in the right direction. And, just maybe, this scout was one of the few that did not seem radar gun crazy. In fact, all he spoke of was his movement and his need for that third pitch, the changeup. The speeds of his pitches were only observed and not spoken of.
Then, just when it seemed that TJ Beam was poised to turn around his 2004 season, that to this point has been somewhat of a disappointment, a step was made. But, this time it was not a step forward. It was a step back. Levi Webber of the Cardinals stepped up in the 2nd inning of a game that ended up being unofficial. Beam got ahead on the count and then he appeared to try and go to his new found changeup. The pitch sat there on a tee for Webber and he crushed it over the left field wall and into the fog. That was the turning point for Beam. He then proceeded to give up three more runs until the game was called off in the fourth inning. What was the reason for his sudden collapse? Well, the obvious blame for this is the sudden loss of faith in the changeup as he started trying to blow the ball past batter after batter. Or, we could also just say that Beam lost the night's battle with "The Gun."