Pirates' bullpen coach Luis Dorante to team with Pujols
PHILADELPHIA — Luis Dorante is one of the best at serving up gopher balls.
The Pirates' bullpen coach tosses batting practice before every game, trying to put the ball in a spot where it can be launched a long way over the outfield wall.
"You've got to throw it to the area where (the hitters) feel comfortable," Dorante said. "Once they feel comfortable in that area, you try to throw every pitch right there. That's the key, for them to come out of the cage feeling good about it, round after round."
Tonight, Dorante will lob a lot of fat pitches for St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols in the MLB Home Run Derby. The event, which is part of the All-Star week festivities in St. Louis, will also include Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Brandon Inge and Nelson Cruz.
Before a game two months ago at PNC Park, Pujols carefully watched the Pirates tee off against Dorante. When batting practice was over, Pujols approached Dorante with an unusual request.
Would Dorante pitch to Pujols in the Home Run Derby?
"It kind of shocked me a little bit," Dorante said. "I didn't give him an answer right away."
It didn't take long, though, for Dorante to accept. The two men already have a friendly relationship.
In 2007, Pujols was supposed to play for a Dominican winter-league team managed by Dorante. An elbow injury kept Pujols off the field, but he and Dorante have stayed in touch over the years.
When Pujols heard the Cardinals' usual batting practice pitcher would not be around during All-Star week, he began scouting for a replacement for the derby.
"He saw me throwing that day (in May) and liked the way the ball was coming out of my hand, the firmness and everything," Dorante said.
This will be Dorante's first trip to the MLB All-Star Game, though he has coached in all-star games in the minors and in winter ball.
"It's an honor to be picked by (Pujols)," Dorante said. "Hopefully, we'll win."
Pujols last competed in the Derby in 2007, when he was eliminated in the semifinals. In 2003, he lost to Garret Anderson, 8-7, in the final round.
"(Pujols) has no chance to win with you throwing," Paul Maholm teased as he walked by Dorante.
"You're not a hitter, so you can't tell," Dorante shot back, grinning.
And if Pujols does win?
"I hope he gives me a bat signed by him," Dorante said. "But I'm not going to ask for anything."
This season, Pujols is averaging one homer roughly every nine at-bats and is on pace to finish with 59 long balls, which would be tops in the majors.
Dorante figures it won't be too hard to get the ball in Pujols' wheelhouse.
"It's everywhere," said Dorante, who has been studying Pujols' home-run swing on video. "It's away, up, down, in. Hopefully, I'll stay in one spot, and he can do whatever he wants with it."
A look at recent winners of the Home Run Derby, which is tonight in St. Louis:
Year: Player — HRs/Venue
2008: Justin Morneau — 22/Yankee Stadium, New York
2007: Vladimir Guerrero — 17/AT&T Park, San Francisco
2006: Ryan Howard — 23/PNC Park
2005: Bobby Abreu — 41/Comerica Park, Detroit
2004: Miguel Tejada — 27/Minute Maid Park, Houston
2003: Garret Anderson — 22/U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
2002: Jason Giambi — 24/Miller Park, Milwaukee
2001: Luis Gonzalez — 16/Safeco Field, Seattle
2000: Sammy Sosa — 26/Turner Field, Atlanta
1999: Ken Griffey Jr. — 16/Fenway Park, Boston
1998: Ken Griffey Jr. — 19/Coors Field, Denver
1997: Tino Martinez — 16/Jacobs Field, Cleveland
1996: Barry Bonds — 17/Veteran Stadium, Philadelphia
1995: Frank Thomas — 15/The Ballpark in Arlington
1994: Ken Griffey Jr. — 7/Three Rivers StadiumAdditional Information: