Mackey: Why has Carl Pavano experienced a decrease in velocity?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins starting rotation is a frustrating group to be a part of these days.
On Friday night, right-hander Carl Pavano was the latest to get hit hard, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits, a walk and two home runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals.
Believe it or not, Pavano's effort actually lowered the starters' collective ERA from 7.09 to 7.01.
But the effort wasn't good enough, and Pavano made no excuses after the game, saying, "I take it personally. I didn't do my job."
For Pavano (4.91 ERA through five starts), giving up hits and runs this month has been frustrating. He views himself as the horse of the Twins' pitching staff, and Friday was a chance for the Twins (5-15) to take advantage of a struggling Royals team.
But the process early on might actually be more frustrating for Pavano than the results -- specifically problems locating pitches and reaching his usual velocities.
Pavano's average sinker and four-seam fastball in 2011 each clocked at 89 miles per hour. This year those velocities are down to 86 and 87 miles per hour.
Now, Pavano's pitch repertoire and control don't necessarily require him to have the type of velocity that blows hitters away. But hitters have been able to square him up frequently early in the season.
"Last night he said his ball was drifting back over the plate on him and it's probably because of that - not enough velocity on it to get the movement he needs," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But the big thing with us is that we have not made quality enough pitches in clutch situations. And it'll cost you. That's what has happened with Pav a couple of times.
"He's trying to make a pitch and he doesn't execute it. And when your velocity is down a little like it is now he gets hit pretty hard. He's frustrated with it. It doesn't sound like a lot, but 3 to 4 miles per hour is a lot with a pitcher like that."
Gardenhire added, "I wish I had an answer for you. I don't think anybody does. The only guy who can tell you what's going on is the guy that has the ball in his hand. His mechanics - he works on those as much as anybody. He knows what he's got to do.
"He's been doing this a long time. We talked to him after he came out of the game. He says he can't figure it out right now. I asked him if he's OK health-wise. He say he feels fine, no different than he always has."
After his start, a frustrated Pavano said he immediately went back and looked at film and determined his mechanics were too "rotational."
"The most efficient way is a straight line, and sometimes I get side-to-side, which forces me to get around the ball or underneath the ball," Pavano said Saturday morning. "I think it flattens out the ball, and a lot of things aren't good when you're looking for deception, and angle, and location and movement to be good."
MLB Pitch F/X data supports Pavano's theory.
Along with lower velocity on his four-seamer and sinker, all of Pavano's pitches -- four-seamer, changeup, slider, sinker -- have less bite and downward movement in 2012 than in 2011.
Can too much side-to-side movement in a pitcher's mechanics affect both velocity and movement?
"I think so, yeah," Pavano said. "It definitely does. It affects your power and your extension."
Pavano said he plans on watching more film over the next few days and feeling out his mechanics during throwing sessions.
Pavano did throw 97 pitches in his final spring start in early April, when normally pitchers would throw 80 to 85. It's difficult to tell if that has made a difference.
Cold weather could also have played a part. Pavano's two best starts came in Tampa (72 degrees inside dome) and at New York (77 degrees). In both of those outings Pavano's fastball velocity was slightly better than in his other three -- 59 degrees in Baltimore for the season opener, 50 degrees at Target Field on April 11 and 53 degrees on Friday.
Heck, maybe Pavano's age -- 36 -- plays a role.
Despite the grind, Pavano has been able to navigate his way through at least six innings in all five of his starts even while allowing seven first-inning runs.
But if the Twins have any chance at turning the tide this season, Pavano must find a way to be better.
And he knows it.