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Updated: September 10th, 2012 6:06pm
Twins waiting for Esmerling Vasquez to throw more breaking balls

Twins waiting for Esmerling Vasquez to throw more breaking balls

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Lost in the shuffle of Sunday's walk-off dramatics was the head-scratching performance of Minnesota Twins starter Esmerling Vasquez, who delivered his second clunker since being called up 10 days ago.

Vasquez gave up four earned runs on three hits and five walks in only three innings, and he threw only 32 of his 68 pitches for strikes.

This is a far cry from the pitcher who posted a 1.50 ERA with 44 strikeouts, 17 walks and only 26 hits allowed in 42 innings since converting to a starter in Rochester.

Perhaps most baffling was Vasquez's approach. According to Pitch F/X data, the right-hander threw only three breaking balls the entire afternoon. Catcher Ryan Doumit was said to have given the breaking ball sign on numerous occasions, only to be shaken off almost every time.

In his first start, last week against the Royals, Vasquez threw only 10 breaking balls out of 78 pitches.

Manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson were encouraging Vasquez to throw more breaking balls on Sunday, but the 28-year-old -- who has spent most of the past five seasons as a reliever -- feels most comfortable with fastballs and changeups.

In his two outings, to go along with 13 breaking balls, Vasquez has thrown 68 fastballs (34 four-seam, 34 of the sinking variety) and 65 changeups.

Vasquez's 45% changeup usage through two starts would appear to be far too high. Among qualified starters, Cole Hamels throws the most changeups (30%), followed by Mark Buehrle (29%) and James Shields (28%).

Because Vasquez throws his fastballs anywhere from 90 to 94 mph, his low-80's changeup, when located, can be a very effective pitch. It can also act as a strikeout pitch.

But throwing it almost 50% of the time takes away the effectiveness and surprise element.

To be a successful major league starter, Vasquez almost certainly needs to throw his breaking ball much more often. If he doesn't feel comfortable with it, he'll have to develop a better one. He should probably be throwing a lot more fastballs than changeups too.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Ryan Doumit, Ron Gardenhire