Mike Minor is at his best when he's using all four pitches in his repertoire. Minor throws a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. The fastball has made up just less than 60 percent of his pitches in his career, with his usage of the other three ranging from 12 percent to 16.7 percent. He'll throw the change more frequently than the slider and curve, as is typical for a lefty, but in a vacuum he doesn't hugely favor any one of his secondary pitches over the other two.
The 26-year-old Braves pitcher missed the first month of the season with shoulder soreness after getting a late start on his throwing program in spring training due to urinary tract surgery in January. He had a decent outing in his first start of the year, allowing two runs on seven hits with four strikeouts in six innings. The Cardinals shelled him his second time out, knocking him around for six runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings. There was a silver lining to that start, though, and a sign that the Minor of 2013 wasn't too far off. He fanned six Cardinals, and used all four of his pitches, especially the slider and changeup.
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Minor had his best game of the year on Tuesday, his second outing against the Giants. He tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings, striking out six batters while allowing just three hits and two walks in Atlanta's 5-0 win. It should come as no surprise that all four of Minor's pitches were working, as you can see in the video here.
Let's pull out an example of each one of Minor's pitches befuddling a Giant hitter.
24 seconds, changeup: Here we see Minor in a 2-2 count against San Francisco catcher Hector Sanchez. Minor's favorite weapon against righties is the changeup and Minor breaks it out here with precision. The pitch is located perfectly, off the outside corner and down out of the zone. If Minor can only bring one secondary pitch to the party, it's going to be the change. It was encouraging to see him have such command of it on Tuesday.
32 seconds, curveball: This is the offering that Minor really lacked against the Cardinals. He didn't use it often, largely because he didn't have a good feel for it. That was not the case in San Francisco. In this instance, he's ahead of Hunter Pence 1-2 with nobody out and nobody on. This season, Minor is spiking his curveball with a knuckle, which has helped him get more bite on it when he throws it well. That's what happens here, as he buries it in the dirt, exactly where he wants it in a 1-2 count, especially against a swing-happy hitter like Pence. The knuckle-curve can be a big part of Minor's repertoire this year, but it remains to be seen just how he'll work it in, specifically how he'll mix it with his slider.
46 seconds, fastball: Brandon Hicks led off the fifth inning for the Giants, and got himself into a 2-2 count. Minor's fastball isn't overpowering, averaging 90.5 mph in his career. That means he needs to spot it perfectly, especially if he's not in a plus-count. More often than not, that means getting it way in on a righty's hands or on the outer-third. That's exactly what he does against Hicks, tying him up inside to get the backwards k. Even if Hicks made contact with this, he's getting sawed off and grounding out weakly. There's nothing a hitter can do with a pitch like this.
54 seconds, slider: The slider is Minor's go-to breaking pitch, and Joaquin Arias found out why in this at-bat. Minor busts out the devilish pitch in a 2-2 count, and while he misses his spot to the inside part of the plate just a bit, the break on it is more than enough to make Arias look foolish as he swings at a pitch that comes closer to hitting him in the foot than he does to hitting it. Along with the changeup, the slider is one of Minor's two real put-away pitches. When it has the movement on it like it did here, Minor is awfully hard to beat.
Bonus pitch, 1:00, fastball: When pitchers have four different pitches working, like Minor did on Tuesday, that's when everything comes together and they can easily fool hitters, even ones who have some hardware on their mantle at home. This is a key at-bat, perhaps the most crucial one in the game. The Braves are ahead 4-0 in the bottom of the sixth, and Buster Posey is at the plate with men on second and third and two out. Minor gets him into a 1-2 count, the exact count in which he has been going to his off-speed pitches. But that's not what he does here. Evan Gattis calls for a fastball in on Posey's hands. Minor dreadfully misses his spot, but he has had San Francisco hitters so off-balance all night that it doesn't matter. Posey clearly expects to get an off-speed pitch of some sort, and by time he reads fastball and tries to hold up, it's too late. He swings awkwardly and misses, and Minor trots off the mound unscathed.
As the Giants learned on Tuesday, when Minor commands his fastball and effectively mixes in all of his off-speed pitches, he's among the best left-handed pitchers in the game.