By Shannon Drayer
ATLANTA – Roenis Elias may be the biggest and most pleasant surprise on the Mariners’ roster this year. Time will tell because we are still learning about him. It was great that he made the team out of spring training, great that he had early success against division teams and great to learn that he could survive a four-game spell without his best pitch, the curveball.
That was all good. Now there is a twist – or a hitch, if you will.
Elias showed something a little different in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game against the Tigers. Did you catch it?
He capped off a brilliant outing with a brilliant inning with the addition of something Detroit’s hitters had not yet seen from him in that game – a hesitation, or hitch in his delivery, which no one seems to remember him doing before.
I caught up with Elias in the clubhouse at Yankees Stadium Monday after watching him have an animated conversation with Hisashi Iwakuma without interpreters. It was a sight to see, two of the more reserved members of the club yucking it up, so I had to ask what had them laughing.
“He was just telling me a couple of things to call the other guys in Japanese,” Elias said through an interpreter.
Well, it turns out Kuma was teasing Elias about mimicking him on the mound. The hitch looked a little too familiar to him. I asked Elias why he all of the sudden decided to throw the new move in there in the ninth inning of his complete game.
“They had seen me for eight innings, so going to the ninth I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I changed the mechanics to mess with the timing.”
It was hardly spur-of-the-moment improvising, however. The move was quite studied and practiced.
“I’m a big fan of the Japanese mechanics,” he said. “I did it all through the minors when I came to the U.S. and I have been using it here with success.”
His exposure to the Japanese mechanics came from watching the World Baseball Classic.
“Darvish, Matsuzaka, I just like the mechanics. It seemed to work for me when I tried it so I just started doing it,” he said.
The move appeared effective as Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera actually flinched when he saw it and Elias had a 1-2-3 inning, going through the most dangerous part of the Tigers’ order to pick up his first complete-game shutout.
Will we see it again? I would suspect so. When Elias got to spring training he was told to choose one arm angle and throw from that rather than the multiple arm angles (as is the Cuban style) he had been throwing from in the past. He was told to quit throwing Cuban style.
No one ever told him not to throw Japanese style.