Brad Bergesen and Jeremy Guthrie are brothers in arms when it comes to the art of pitching. The Orioles right-handers aren’t all that similar in style—the 25-year-old Bergesen is a sinkerballer and the 31-year-old Guthrie is more of a hard thrower—but each approaches the craft with a studious mindset. They sat down together during the final month of the season to talk about who they are and how they think on the mound.
David Laurila: Brad, how would you describe Jeremy?
Brad Bergesen: Jeremy has been our ace this year. He’s been very consistent. I like to think of him as a power pitcher who really attacks the zone. His fastball usually sits around 91-92 [mph] on the low end and gets up to 96-97 once in a while.
He works fast and keeps the defense in it, which is a real big thing at this level. He’s very intuitive with what he’s doing; he’s a thinker who always has a plan out there. He works diligently and works very hard. I guess that’s kind of Jeremy in a nutshell.
DL: Jeremy, do you agree with the power-pitcher label?
Jeremy Guthrie: Yeah. I’d like to have more strikeouts, but that comes with executing your pitches a little more consistently. High praise from Mr. Bergesen for sure.
DL: How would you describe Brad?
JG: Brad is throwing the ball really well this year. He relies on the sinker traditionally, but he’s shown recently that he’s going to throw the four-seamer as well. He can power the fastball by you; his velocity has crept up with that pitch. He has to keep the hitter honest so [they] can’t just sit on that sinking fastball, which generates all kinds of ground balls for him.
[His] slider comes out of the same plane, so it’s deceptive. You’ll see guys take some bad swings at it. He also mixes in the changeup, and I feel like—as I’ve watched him mix in the changeup more consistently, as well as the four-seamer—it has made a big difference in the way hitters look against him. They take a lot of bad swings.
Ultimately, what he’s trying to do is get a quick out, a quick ground-ball out, staying down in the zone. He works a very quick game. He works quickly and pounds the zone, which is important.
DL: This question is for either of you: Is pitching simple or is it complicated?
BB: I think that we, as pitchers, make it very complicated, but when you look at it as a whole, it’s a very simple task. What we’re trying to do is throw a ball and get a guy out. Yet there are so many scouting reports that we’re informed on; there are so many statistics, so many charts that we look at. Sometimes we even go information overload instead of just sticking to our strengths and what we do best.
DL: Jeremy, are strikeouts important for a pitcher?
JG: I think they are. Certainly, a strikeout in a big situation—man on third and nobody out, or second and third and one out—becomes an important part of the game. But you can’t always shoot for one because at times that will run your pitch count up.
For me, strikeouts have always been a result of stuff as well as location. I feel that if you have strikeouts, that means you’re locating your pitches. I’ve seen guys with not necessarily overpowering fastballs have very high strikeout totals. That speaks to how well they execute their pitches and their location and deception. Certainly, strikeouts are an important part of pitching for any pitcher.
DL: Pitchers sometimes talk about how the ball comes out of their hand. What does that mean to each of you?
BB: I’m a big feel guy, so when I’m feeling all the right pieces to my mechanics, the end result is that it feels good coming out of my hand. What that means is that my arm is in the right slot, the ball is getting released at the right point, and my hand is staying behind the ball.
That goes as well as for my off-speed pitches. There are different feelings for those. With my changeup, I need my hand out in front and good arm speed and good hand speed. And then with my slider, I need to stay on top of that as well. With all three pitches, there’s a different feeling that comes, and when everything is going right with the mechanics, it feels good coming out of the hand.
JG: Feel is what pitching is. It adds to your confidence when everything feels like it’s in sync, or everything is working together. That’s what a pitcher tries to do when he gets in a good groove; it feels like the ball is coming out very easy. He doesn’t have to try hard to generate his movement or his velocity when it comes out with everything in sync, and in motion together.
DL: Craig Breslow once told me that he rarely throws two pitches identically. Does that make sense to you?
JG: No. (laughs)
BB: If that’s what works and that’s what gives him that confidence, and the right feel, I can understand that, but I don’t think it’s the case for everyone. You throw a certain pitch… say you throw an 83-mph slider and you put it in the exact location that you want, with the exact movement you want, and you make a hitter look silly. Why wouldn’t you want to double up on that pitch and do the exact same thing? Now, there are always the cases where the hitter up there is a big-time power hitter, so you can’t necessarily do that, but I agree with Jeremy. I think it’s a good thing to throw two of the same pitch when it’s going well.
DL: I interpreted what Breslow said as meaning that the ball doesn’t always come out of his hand the same way, and thus doesn’t have the same action. Does that make sense?
BB: Not necessarily. There have been times that I’ve doubled up on a pitch where I’ve seen almost the identical pitch.
JG: I think the same way. I think I’ve thrown the same pitch many times in my career where it comes out the same: the same location, the same movement, the same feel. So, I would disagree with what Craig said. I feel like I’ve thrown a number that I’ve repeated. I think that it happens quite often.
DL: Pitchers have tendencies, and most hitters know what those tendencies are. What does that mean to you out on the mound?
JG: I’m not sure, so it doesn’t mean much to me, I guess. You hope he doesn’t know exactly what you’re going to do.
BB: I think that goes back to how you were asking, “Is it a simple game or is it a difficult game?” from a pitching standpoint. We have so much information on them, as well as they have so much information on us, like tendencies and what we’ve done against each other in the past. What it really amounts to at this level is a chess match. He’s trying to do something and we’re trying to counter back. We get him out one way, so do we keep doing the same thing or do we try to do something different? You have to make constant adjustments in this game.
DL: Jeremy, how much do individual hitters dictate what you do on the mound?
JG: Well, you watch the scouting reports. I feel like it’s important to understand what their strengths are and you factor that into what you’re going to do. That doesn’t mean you alter what… if their [weakness] is one of your weaknesses, I still feel like you should stay with your strength, the thing that you’re able to more consistently execute. But I really feel like I can learn a lot from watching a hitter, watching him against similar pitching styles and kind of seeing the results. You try to factor that in and put it into your memory bank. If there’s a certain pitch or a location that he looks like he struggles with in a certain situation, I’ll try to remember that. If I get into that situation, I‘ll try to go there like another pitcher may have.
DL: Brad, John Farrell has said that the ability to throw your fastball on both sides of the plate is key, and should be considered two different pitches. Do you agree?
BB: Without a doubt. It is two different pitches; they’re different locations. If you can’t throw to one side of the plate, but you throw to the other side very well, the hitter is able to eliminate [one side] right off the bat. He’s able to look at one location, so it makes it much more difficult to pitch to that side. You feel like you have to pinpoint it, and you can’t really make any mistakes. But when you have both sides of the plate… it’s two different pitches.
JG: I agree with that for sure. A fastball away and a fastball in are very different, and that’s the key to any pitcher’s success, being able to consistently throw a fastball to one of those two locations.
DL: What do the two of you talk about when it comes to pitching?
BB: Sometimes we’ll break it down. If I see Jeremy do something, I’ll let a couple days go by, whether it was a good or bad thing, and I might run it by him and say “What did you think here?” or say “Hey, should I do the same thing to the hitter as you did to him?” We’re really two completely different pitchers, but we’ll throw things off each other every now and then.
JG: Most of the time that I find myself talking to another pitcher it’s about a specific hitter, or a specific instance, or a pitch. I feel like that’s where you can learn the game. When you’re facing this hitter, what did you do to him? How did you get him out? Then they can give you their opinion on what they saw. I like that. That helps build some of that memory storage about different hitters and what they may or may not do well.
DL: Any final thoughts, on pitching, from either of you?
BB: It can make a lot of us become head cases. I think it goes back to the question you were asking about how we keep it simple, and that’s the constant battle I have with myself, and I’m sure it’s the same with many other pitchers at this level. We make it much more difficult than we need to, and you just need to concentrate on what you do best and stick to that.
DL: Jeremy, you get the last word.
JG: I just think pitching is fun. You get the ball in your hand every time and you get to dictate how the game goes, good or bad. It’s fun. That’s what I think about pitching.