Buried deep in Gio Gonzalez’s post game interview following his outing against Pittsburgh’s Pirates on Wednesday, was a mention of the role Brandon Kintzler played in helping the left-handed starter work on his mechanics as he tried to bounce back from a rough five-start stretch in which he went (0-3) with a 7.71 ERA in 21 innings.
“I had a small talk with BK on certain things,” Gonzalez said, “... little things on using more of the hips, the body, and then [Matt Wieters] kind of helped me out during the game telling me to slow down, let my arm catch up. all of that makes sense, but for me that’s a personal thing, which is great. It’s a step in the right direction.”
That was enough to pique our interest, so we asked Brandon Kintzler what he saw and what advice he offered Gonzalez to try to help the southpaw straighten things out heading into the start against the Pirates, in which he gave up just two runs on six hits, with both of the runs coming on a two-run home run by Starling Marte, who hit a low 2-1 changeup out to center field.
“I just think his hand was just getting under the ball a lot,” Kintzler said, “and he was trying to work at it, wants to throw a two-seamer, you can’t get under the ball a lot, you’ve got to stay back and allow your fingers to get on top and then really drive it with your back hip.
“I think that’s something he never really heard before, and you know, he gave up that home run on a changeup that he was under the ball.
“Because I watched his bullpen the other day and that wasn’t really the arm slot — his good pitches were in a different, a higher arm slot where he’d even stay back, and the home run was on a lower arm slot.
“So I was just letting him know exactly what he needed to do to get back to that same slot and to slow it down, and that’s all I really did, really. Sometimes we just need one little key to go off and think about each pitch and roll from there.”
Kintzler was looking closely at Gonzalez in a recent bullpen session he said, because he and the left-hander started talking in the ‘pen during a recent game and discussing sinkers.
“He sat in the bullpen the one game because he was going to pitch out of there,” Kintzler said, “and we were talking about sinkers after the game and he threw the [bullpen] after the game, and I was like, ‘You know what I’ll watch it,’ just to see if I could point something out for him to help him with his sinker.”
“In the games you could see he gets under the ball a lot, but when he throws four-seamers it works out great,” the reliever continued, “but if you want to throw a two-seamer you can’t get under the ball you have to obviously drive it down and get on top. Max [Scherzer] was telling me about [Rick] Porcello — [who] has two different mechanics for a four-seamer and a sinker, so that’s really tough to do, but if you can change your mechanics to ride a ball and change your mechanics to get on top of the ball, I mean, that’s an amazing thing to do really, so maybe if Gio can do that — cause his four-seam plays really good, but he has a good sinker too when he gets on top of it.”
Kintzler said he’s often sought out advice from his teammates as well as offering it.
“Yeah, I mean if I wanted to learn a curveball I’d ask Gio about a curveball,” he said.
“If I wanted to learn a slider I’d ask Scherzer about sliders.”
He did, actually, ask Scherzer about sliders. He told reporters late in 2017, that he picked the back-to-back, defending Cy Young award winner’s brain, and he continues to work on his slider, which he’s used sparingly over the last few seasons after he’d thrown it significantly more in his first few years in the majors.
“We worked on it a lot in Spring Training and then I have a good feel for it now,” Kintzler said.
“He’s still teaching me where to throw it in certain counts, and sometimes you throw it one spot, but you need to throw it to another right after that, so I’m still learning.”
While he’s willing to learn from his teammates, and offer advice as well, Kintzler said in the end, it’s just tweaking and trying to make improvements while sticking with what you know works.
“I’ve just learned just to stay with my strengths,” he explained. “I think we’re our own best pitching coaches really. Sometimes teammates can help you along the way, but I think we all know what feels good and what looks right, so really just stick to your own.
“Sometimes a guy will just say, ‘Hey, when you do this that works out really well for you, it looks like that works good for you, and then you kind of remind yourself of that.
“Sometimes you just need a teammate to kind of just give you a little extra boost.”