Trevor May and the Next Adjustment
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY SportsMay has always been a cerebral hurler, as interested in the craft and the theory of pitching as in the sheer force of his fastball or the filthiness of his changeup. Through a career interrupted repeatedly by injuries, May fought to find the best possible blend of pitches to suit his talents, including his body. It was well-intentioned, but like former teammate Phil Hughes, May sometimes got criticized for spending too much time making changes and too little time perfecting what he already did.
Like Hughes, though, May was undeterred by outside opinions. Last spring, he made a potentially big realization: his high arm slot didn’t need to stop him from throwing an effective slider. Long a fastball-changeup guy in a perpetual search for a more workable breaking ball, May ditched the cutter-style slider he had previously tried, opting instead for a harder variant of his curveball. He achieved more depth with the pitch, increased its spin rate, and knew he had the makings of an important fix.
However, as May reflected at the time, the change had little immediate utility, because he lacked the command to maximize it. He could throw the “ball-to-strike” version of the pitch, dropping it into the zone for called strikes when batters weren’t expecting it, and he could bury it in the dirt to induce chases from extremely anxious hitters when ahead in the count, but he didn’t develop feel for the “strike-to-ball” version of the pitch—the one hitters would see as a fastball with plenty of the zone out of the hand, only to dip toward their ankles and miss their bats.
That’s why, late last season, May put his breaking ball project on the shelf and threw his fastball at a career-high frequency, dominating with sheer power. In the long run, though, it was clear he would need to make another adjustment in order to take the next step toward becoming a true relief ace. (The secret is, even for pitchers who don’t realize it, the need for another adjustment is always right around the corner.)
Through two appearances, it’s already clear that the tinkerer has been tinkering again, and that he’s done his homework. May’s slider has now wholly replaced his curveball, at least so far, and it’s for the best. The slider he’s throwing now has the best of his last two versions: it’s about two miles per hour harder than it was last season, but still has the vertical movement he found after making the grip change. More importantly, though, he has full command of this version. He threw the “strike-to-ball” slider a handful of times against St. Louis Tuesday night, leading to two of his strikeouts.
May’s changeup is also back in the mix, more than it had been late in 2019. He’s throwing it without the armside run that allowed hitters to differentiate it from his fastball, and thus, he’s fooling them better even without a big movement differential. If he can continue using both the slider and the changeup as this season progresses, May will hit free agency as a full-fledged relief ace with big earning potential, and the Twins will have a pitcher finally comfortable enough with his full arsenal to stop tinkering.
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