Nardi Contreras, the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator, sits down with PinstripesPlus.com…
The Slider The Key For Duff
"When I started off in the stretch, I didn't have the confidence and I didn't feel I was getting the drive or the push or anything like that to get something behind the ball," he admitted. "I think that was the reason I wasn't throwing hard, but it was more of a mental block and nothing physical because once I went back into the wind-up, my stretch was the same velocity."
Sitting 90-95 MPH with his fastball a year ago with the Gulf Coast League Yankees, Duff's fastball was only in the 88-91 MPH range in the first-half of the 2007 season.
While he admits it was more mental than anything, the fact was his fastball velocity was down and that only forced him to try and throw harder, sending his mechanics way out of whack and affecting his control, not just with his fastball but with his slider as well.
"I was definitely not confident," he reflected. "I wasn't confident in my stuff. When you try to throw hard you're rushing forward and flying open. There goes your slider, because once you fly open, you have no bite on your slider."
His slider was his money pitch a year ago when he went 5-1 with a 1.14 ERA and 59 strikeouts in a little more than 47 innings for the Gulf Coast League Yankees. He acknowledged his success then was due to his confidence in throwing his slider in any count.
"Last year when I'd go 1-0 or 2-0, I could throw a slider for a strike," he revealed. "I could probably do it nine times out of ten last year. This year I kind of lost that when I went into the stretch at the beginning of the year.
"That made it so I had to throw my fastball and changeup a lot more often. If I went 2-0 on a guy because I threw two fastballs that were like two inches outside and just missed, I didn't have the confidence to go to my slider when they were sitting fastball. I think that changed a lot of the way I pitch."
Losing the bite on his slider and no longer able to command it at will like he had a year ago, Duff scrambled to rediscover his main weapon and that only made matters worse.
"It turned into a curveball when I went into the stretch," he said of his slider. "I was flying open with my front shoulder. Once I fly open, my arm comes through later and it got loopier, it was slower, like 77-78 MPH, and it was more of down break rather than a good depth slider.
"I was using the same grip I did from the wind-up. Once that started happening, I started changing my grip, which is stupid because I know I had a great pitch with where I was at. I started moving my grip around to get it good again and I kept screwing with it and screwing with it."
With his slider a mess, his fastball velocity nowhere near his normal range, and his resulting confidence at an all-time low, he wound up walking 25 batters in 29 2/3 innings in July before the Yankees finally allowed him to go back to pitching from the wind-up.
Even though he still realizes and maintains it was all mental, it made all the difference where it counted. He went 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in his last five starts, finishing the year strong, thanks in large part to getting his plus slider back.
"Once I went back into the wind-up, I put the old slider grip back on it and it was great," Duff said of his slider towards the end of his season. "Every once in a while after I went back into the wind-up, until the end of the year, I'd go back to that curvy, slurvy, curveball-slider thing, just because I wasn't used to throwing it the right way."
Still unsure why he pitched so much better from the wind-up, Duff was just happy to find his fastball velocity and slider once again to end the season on a high note and he believes that trend could continue into next season.
"Now that I have the right grip, I think I have it back," he said of his slider. "I'm positive I have it back and I'm able to throw it again. That's a big confidence thing for me. It's a really important pitch to me."
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