Pirates' pitchers are hitting 100 mph on the radar gun

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

SEATTLE — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle doesn't talk about pitchers throwing 100 mph.

“We like to call it 90-10,” Hurdle said. “Most people don't know what we're talking about. It's simple. Instead of 98 or 99, they throw 90-10.”

Call it what you want, but triple-digit fastballs are becoming more common. Ten years ago, according to Baseball Info Solutions, only one pitcher in the majors threw 25 game pitches 100 mph or faster. Last season, seven pitchers did it.

“It grabs everybody's attention,” Hurdle said. “All people look at is the radar gun. When it hits 100, you know something has happened in the ballpark, because you hear the crowd. We heard it at home a couple of times: ‘Ahh!' ”

The Pirates don't have a tradition of flamethrowers. Pitchers such as Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Billy Wagner were always in the other team's dugout. This year, however, the Pirates claim two members of that hard-throwing fraternity.

Left-handed reliever Justin Wilson touched 100 mph June 17 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the first time he'd done it in the majors, although he'd flashed that kind of velocity at Triple-A Indianapolis.

When right-hander Gerrit Cole was drafted in 2011, he already had a big-arm reputation. He buzzed 100 mph in each of his first two starts, then hit it eight times in 88 pitches Friday against the Los Angeles Angels. One four-seamer was clocked at 90-11 ... er, 101 mph.

While Cole was pitching, an Angels official in the press box suggested the radar gun at Angel Stadium “might be a little warm.” But, after the game, Hurdle said he had no reason to doubt the gun was well-calibrated.

“I think it was playing about right,” Hurdle said. “I think (Jason) Grilli and (Vin) Mazzaro's reads were accurate, (compared to) what they've been throughout the season. So, I think it's a pretty legit gun.”

Cole admitted to sneaking a peek at radar gun readings posted on the scoreboard.

“I saw one of them, but I don't know how many times I (hit 100 mph) or whatever,” Cole said. “I let a few go tonight, I do know that.”

Cole's 95.9 mph average fastball velocity would be tops among major league starters if he had enough innings to qualify. (He's only tossed 18 13 innings over three starts.) Even so, Cole is uncomfortable talking about the giddyup on his pitches.

“I don't think about it,” Cole said. “I use it as a weapon. I never thought about the mystique or anything. I've thrown this hard since I was 17. It's just always been there, so I don't see it as too big a deal. It's just another weapon.”

Wilson doesn't take the ability to throw 100 mph for granted. He'd always been a hard thrower, but Wilson didn't reach that elite level until a couple of years ago after he was converted to a reliever at Triple-A Indianapolis.

“Yeah, it's pretty cool,” Wilson admitted. “But it doesn't feel any different. I wouldn't say it feels different than even 90 mph. I have my target, and I try to attack it. I don't worry about the velocity.”

Wilson doesn't usually get much downtime between relief outings, so he's not always able to hit 100. On the days when he feels well-rested, his velocity will spike — but, he cautioned, those also are the times when he must work harder to harness and locate his pitches.

“When you feel fresh, those are days when the ball might be flying up in the zone,” Wilson said.

Hurdle knows he's fortunate to have two cannons, one in the rotation and the other in the bullpen. And the veteran manager knows, it takes more than pure speed to be a successful big league pitcher.

“You can throw fast, but if it is straight, batters will catch up to it,” Hurdle said. “But if there's a little finish to it ... ”

Hurdle smiled.

“Wilson's downward angle creates deception. Cole ... there's a little angle, but I don't know what it is. The finish to his pitches is what gets my attention.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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