Opposing batters have enough trouble hitting Jason Grilli's pitches when they can time them. When they can't, the pitches become baffling.
Grilli, who led the major leagues in saves with 22 before the Saturday night game against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park, has made good use of a slide step to catch batters unaware.
When Grilli slide-steps, he moves his left leg immediately toward the plate and fires rather than raising his left knee. He reduces his delivery time, and his 94 mph fastball reaches hitters even sooner than they anticipated.
"It serves a couple purposes," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Number one, it's very hard to run on.
"More often than not, he uses it for a weapon, to disrupt the timing of a hitter who's using a leg lift. We call it an ambush."
Whatever impact the slide step has had, Grilli struck out 38 batters in 242/3 innings before Saturday.
Hurdle said Grilli has increased the use of his slide step since Hurdle managed Grilli with the Colorado Rockies, but the reliever has had the move for a while.
"I was watching my high school video and I still had a little bit of one then, too," Grilli said. "It's just something I've always done because I was cognizant of controlling the running game and keeping guys close."
Despite the abridged delivery, Grilli manages to keep the speed of his fastball in the mid-90s. He said he eliminated the extraneous parts of his motion and kept only what was necessary to throw the pitch.
"Most hitters think they need to have a big stride to create power," Hurdle said. "You can go ahead and put your foot down and hit with just as much power as you can without a stride. It's about the swing dynamics.
"With him, it's about the arm dynamics. Just keeping the arm in alignment with the back side. When the front foot hits, the arm's ready to fire."
Many pitchers employ some version of a quicker delivery from the stretch with runners on base.
"You look at [Johnny] Cueto," Grilli said of the Cincinnati Reds starter who makes a drastic turn toward second as part of his windup.
"Cueto did one [Friday] where he didn't lift his leg. He went right out of the full windup and just went a quick turn to get to his delivery."
If pitchers don't throw quality pitches, the disruption of a hitter's timing is of little benefit. Grilli combines the timing disruption with either a strong fastball or tough slider.
"If you can mix in a slide-step slider," Grilli said, "then they're really going, 'OK, what's going on?' "
Marte gets some rest
Hurdle gave Starling Marte a night off Saturday. Alex Presley started in left field and led off.
In the 18 games Marte played before Saturday, he had a .234 on-base percentage and a .254 slugging percentage in 79 plate appearances. He struck out 16 times compared to three walks.
After hitting .327 in April, Marte hit .243 in May. His batting average when putting the ball in play dropped from .418 in April to .291 in May, which is much closer to the league average.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 2, 2013 4:00 AM