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Chien-Ming Wang set for debut, armed with signature sinker
Question of the Day
“That,” Michalak replied, “was a big-league sinker.”
The pitch defined Wang’s five seasons with the Yankees, as much as his idolization in his native Taiwan, where he remains the country’s most popular athlete. Much of Wang’s comeback depends on the pitch - once one of baseball’s best - that dives toward the dirt between 90 and 94 mph. Batters pound the ball into the field. Sixty percent of the balls put in play against Wang were on the ground.
The pitch was born on a lark, when Wang played catch on the side one day at Triple-A Columbus in the Yankees‘ system. Catcher Sal Fasano tossed his version of a screwball, breaking from left to right and sometimes sinking, to Wang. Fasano, who now manages the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, showed Wang the grip. Wang threw it a few times before Fasano summoned pitching coach Neil Allen. The makeshift screwball turned into a sinker.
“It seemed to be a perfect storm,” Fasano said, “And the right pitch for him.”
A sinker solved a significant problem for Wang: Hiis fastball touched 95 mph but was as straight as the first-base line. Thrown from the same arm slot as a fastball, the sinker moved.
Allen shortened the landing spot for Wang’s left foot by a couple of feet. Those inches allowed Wang’s arm to travel longer and his fingers to stay on top of the ball. That provided the ball’s devastating sink. His 6-foot-3 frame and long fingers seemed made for the pitch.
The ball came off Wang’s right hand heavy, the sort of pitch that breaks bats. Eight inches of movement in the 10 feet before the ball crossed home plate became commonplace.
“His late life was astounding,” Fasano said.
Wang was quiet then, almost to the point Allen felt sorry for him. But each time Allen spied Wang alone in the dugout, he was studying other pitchers’ mechanics. The pitcher, teammates recall, acted as if he had something to prove.
“He’d do anything you asked, but he’s got to trust you,” said Allen, now the Triple-A Durham Bulls’ pitching coach, in a voice something like a father’s. “He was the easiest guy to grab hold of I ever had.”
In the six rehabilitation starts, Wang’s fastball velocity ranged from 86 mph to 94 mph. That doesn’t matter as much with the sinker. The pitch felt a little better to Wang each game, as he allowed 28 hits and stuck out 17 over 28.2 innings. Locating the pitch most concerns him.
“It is the hard, late-bottoming action that makes it so effective,” Harris wrote. “True sinkerballers, which Wang is, don’t have to manipulate as much and have more consistent vertical sink that hitters have a difficult time lifting.”
At Pfitzner Stadium, a beam of sun fought through the dark sky and reflected off the bog up the right-field line.
Two Kinston Indians players, with no game to play, spied a discarded pile of dry ice by their clubhouse, shoved pieces into water bottles and scampered away. Each explosion seemed to shake the small stadium.
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