Every pitcher has certain stuff he’s most comfortable throwing in a tight spot.
For some, it may depend on whether they’re facing a right or left-handed hitter, but all of the most successful arms have something nasty they lean on when needed.
It’s often referred to as the “out pitch,” and with it comes stories, nicknames, and sometimes a unique grip or throwing motion.
The Oklahoman asked three of the top pitchers in the Big 12 about their out pitch.
Here are their stories:
Brandon Finnegan, TCU
Out pitch: Slider
Stuck in second and third inning jams against Texas during an April game, TCU’s Brandon Finnegan leaned on his slider.
“Twice in the first few innings we had a couple errors and Texas got a couple guys on base,” Finnegan said. “I ended up striking out three over those two innings to get me out of it, all on sliders.”
Finnegan went on to toss an eight-inning gem against the Longhorns — striking out 11, surrendering no runs, and giving up just four hits in a 3-0 victory.
“That day at Texas every pitch was working and that made my slider that much more effective,” said Finnegan, who is projected as the No. 11 overall prospect in this year’s Major League Baseball draft by MLB.com. “It was one of those days where I knew after the first couple innings that all we needed was a run and the game was sealed.”
The junior has used the slider along with an effective fastball and changeup to compile a Big 12-leading 103 strikeouts.
“It comes out of my hand just like me fastball does,” said Finnegan, who has an 8-3 record this season. “That’s what makes it so hard for everyone to hit. They can’t tell what kind of pitch it is because it comes out looking like a fastball and just drops out of the zone.”
Nathan Thornhill, Texas
Out pitches: “Bugs Bunny” changeup vs. lefties and cut fastball vs. righties
Nathan Thornhill’s career as a high school quarterback has helped him develop a devastating changeup.
“When I follow through on a changeup, it’s the same as throwing a football,” Thornhill said. “I think that’s kind of what helped me get the control and the feel for it.”
Thornhill’s unique grip helps set his changeup apart from the average. While his hand is in the typical circle changeup shape, the right-hander places the ball only between his pinky and middle fingers. The result is a pitch that resembles a curveball coming from a left-handed pitcher.
The pitch is so rare, it’s even developed a nickname.
“I haven’t named any of my pitches, but I guess the Longhorn Network named my change the Bugs Bunny changeup,” Thornhill said. “It has a lot of movement to it, so they said it’s almost cartoon-like.”
This year, the senior has used the changeup more readily against left-handed hitters and his new cut fastball against righties. Incorporating the cut fastball has resulted in his best season at Texas with a 6-2 record and 1.62 earned run average.
“The reason I’ll throw one to a righty and the other to a lefty is that the pitch will break away from the hitter,” Thornhill said. “They’re both effective, but the changeup is my favorite.”
Brendan McCurry, Oklahoma State
Out pitches: “Frisbee” slider vs. righties and changeup vs. lefties
On his way to becoming the all-time saves leader at Oklahoma State, Brendan McCurry has pitched his way out of many tight situations.
When he needs an out, he’s consistently gone to two different pitches depending on who he’s facing. If he’s facing a right-handed hitter, the senior with 24 career saves will go with his nasty slider.
“That’s just the Frisbee,” McCurry said. “It’s just a slider, and it’s the one that I’ll throw most to a righty.”
While the “Frisbee” has become McCurry’s most recognizable pitch, it’s not even his most effective.
“I use everything for every situation,” said McCurry, who has an OSU single-season record 16 saves this season. “But I would say my changeup is probably the best pitch I throw. Both of those pitches have gotten me out of a ton of tight spots.”