Steven Rodriguez’s throne is not made of sparkling gold. It is a raised circular mound 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate and covered in baseball clay.
His subject is the cut fastball, which has received attention and eager suitors from his teammates, including junior starter Hudson Randall.
“My roommate is Paco (Steven Rodriguez). We call him the king of the cutter out here,” Randall said. “I was just talking to him some days fooling around when we were out here throwing. I liked it and asked for some help with it. We got something squared away. We got a new pitch out of it.”
Randall said his fastball velocity has jumped to 89 mph this fall. The cutter adds to a pitching arsenal of an improved fastball and three other pitches.
“I think it is a pretty effective pitch,” Randall said. “They think it is a fastball on the hands, but it just moves just quite enough that they can’t barrel it up. I like it as a fifth pitch, I guess you could call it.”
Randall’s efficiency was on display last season. The Friday night starter finished his sophomore campaign with 13 walks and 0.94 walks per nine innings, which ranked ninth in the entire country.
Florida’s left-handed hitters have not been able to hit Randall’s cutter in fall practices. All lefties can do is pull the pitch foul, Randall said. He works lefties in and righties outside with the pitch.
Senior outfielder Preston Tucker is one of those hitters. The slugger led the Gators last year with 74 RBIs. During the NCAA Tournament, Tucker smacked five home runs. Randall’s cutter has kept the hitter in check this fall. Tucker said he couldn’t put the barrel on the ball when facing Randall’s cutter.
“That is the only pitch I have been seeing,” Tucker said. “He likes it. It is a good pitch. If he locates it well, which he does with just about any pitch, it is a tough pitch to hit. He throws it low and into lefties. You are either going to miss it or hit it foul. I think it is another pitch in his repertoire and he is going to be even better because of it.”
It was no surprise Randall picked up the pitch so quickly, Rodriguez said. As roommates, Rodriguez and Randall often discussed how to throw the pitch.
“I explained to him where the release point is,” Rodriguez said. “Huddy is so smart with the game that he understands well enough to be able to make an adjustment and actually be able to throw the pitch.”
Randall is not the only pitcher with a new pitching wrinkle. Rodriguez started to develop a two-seam fastball. Coming from the left side, the two-seam fastball breaks in on the hands of lefties.
The junior reliever from Gulliver Prep was effective last year mainly using the cut fastball. Rodriguez posted a 4-2 record with a 1.91 ERA in 37.2 innings. With former Florida relievers Anthony DeSclafani, Nick Maronde and Tommy Toledo and , the Gators will look to Rodriguez to anchor the bullpen.
While Randall added the cutter, the king of the cutter decided to work on a two-seam fastball, which has natural tail to the left. Rodriguez said the two-seam fastball would keep hitters off balance and has been discussed between him and head coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
“That is the pitch I have been working on the most this offseason. It has been something me and Sully have talked about,” Rodriguez said. “This year, that is the big thing that I have been using against all of the lefties. I have been trying to get that inside on the lefties. It is basically something new that they have not seen before from me.”
Randall was not the only pitcher to ask for Rodriguez’s recipe for the cutter. The lefty’s movement on the pitch impressed freshman righty John Magliozzi, Rodriguez said.
The secret to throwing the perfect cut fastball is the release point and not the grip. Every pitcher has a different feel for the pitch, Rodriguez said.
With Randall’s early fall success, Rodriguez may want to take advantage of his position as the king of the cutter.
“Something has got to come out of it,” Rodriguez said. “It has been fun this fall. That is for sure.”