MLB: New delivery puts Giants pitcher on radar
By Daniel Brown
San Jose Mercury News
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Almost on a whim, Giants starter Kevin Pucetas changed his delivery in the offseason. He was working out in December, without a pitching coach in sight, when he started bringing his hands above his head again.
“I hadn’t done it since I was about 12,” Pucetas said with a laugh. “But it just came naturally.”
For reasons he can’t explain, the subtle shift restored balance to his delivery. His front shoulder stopped flying open. His curveball started swooping like a hummingbird.
Changing his delivery might also have changed the storyline about the Giants’ fifth-starter job. The anticipated race between phenom Madison Bumgarner and veteran Todd Wellemeyer could have a surprise winner: none of the above.
Pucetas has yet to allow a run—or walk a batter—over seven innings in the Cactus League.
“So far in camp, he’s the best guy I’ve caught,” catcher Eli Whiteside said.
In his most recent outing, on Saturday, the right-hander threw three perfect innings against the Seattle Mariners. Using a fastball in the low-90-mph range, complemented by a slider, curveball and changeup, Pucetas allowed only two balls out of the infield.
“He’s able to locate all of his pitches, and that’s the name of the game,” Whiteside said. “He’s able to get his breaking ball over for strikes and get ahead.”
Pucetas, 25, has yet to pitch in the majors. But the native of Spartanburg, S.C., has made steady progress since being drafted in the 17th round in 2006.
In four professional seasons, the right-hander is 42-13 with a 3.20 ERA. Pucetas was the California League pitcher of the year in 2008 after a dominating season at Single-A San Jose.
He finally ran into trouble at the end of last season. Tired and out of sync, he struggled over the final month and finished with a 5.04 ERA at Triple-A Fresno.
That’s why Pucetas found himself tinkering with his mechanics over the winter. That’s when he raised his hands—and lifted his spirits.
“It’s really allowed me to stay closed a little bit longer,” Pucetas said. “It’s just a timing issue. I kind of had a tendency to spin open.”
Immediately upon his eureka moment, he sent a text message to Fresno pitching coach Pat Rice and broke the news of a new windup. Rice responded with a text of his own: “Dude, what are you doing?”
Pucetas argued his case, reasoning that he was throwing some of the best curveballs of his life—even in the dead of winter. Rice gave him the go-ahead. And at spring training, he finally saw the new delivery.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Price said Monday. “It was kind of an easy fix for him.”
More significant than the new windup could be the revised approach to pitching the corners. Whiteside noticed late last season that Pucetas’ two-seam fastball was tailing back over the plate. So the 6-foot-4, 227-pound pitcher now throws a harder, straighter four-seamer that starts on a corner and stays there.
Embarrassed by the way he faded last season, Pucetas also dedicated himself to offseason training. During the season, he plans to be smarter about how much he throws between starts.
“It’s no secret that last year I lost some stamina,” Pucetas said. “I had a rough last month.”
“I feel great,” he said.