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Bautista gets tips from special cousin03/27/2005 3:06 PM ET
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Denny Bautista did some pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Not too much -- nine games in relief work for Estrellas.
It was what Bautista did on his off days that might have made more of a difference. He worked out with a pitcher of considerable fame, Pedro Martinez. Make that cousin Pedro.
"He's a second cousin on my mother's side," Bautista said. "When we played winter ball and I got a day off, I'd work out with him. Martinez is like the best pitcher we have in the Major Leagues and he showed me what I have to do."
Bautista has the inside track on the Royals' No. 5 starting job after pitching well in four of his five games. Even though he was bounced for six runs in his last outing against the San Diego Padres, there were extenuating circumstances.
"The game before he wasn't allowed to throw the knuckle-curveball, and he wanted to throw some and he ended up throwing 50 percent offspeed, which is not his good groove. He's a 70 or 75 percent fastball guy with the kind of velocity he's got," pitching coach Guy Hansen said.
Ah, yes, that fastball. It ranges from 93 to 98 mph -- hot stuff.
Mix that with the Pedro Martinez-taught changeup, slider, curve, knuckle-cutter and cutter and opponents can have their bat-hands full of trouble.
"But I like to use my fastball," Bautista said. "About two years ago I did 99 and now it's 97, 98, but that's fine. Now I've got better control."
Not perfect control yet -- he's walked seven in 14 1/3 innings in Arizona -- but improving. He has 15 strikeouts in the Cactus League. In the Dominican, he struck out 32 and walked 15 in 32 1/3 innings.
In Bautista's last bullpen session, Hansen worked to give Bautista a more straight-line delivery, something he's also done with everyone from Zack Greinke to Brian Anderson, to fine-tune his command.
Anderson, a 12-year veteran, has noticed a change in the 24-year-old Bautista, obtained last June 21 in a deal that sent reliever Jason Grimsley to the Baltimore Orioles.
"I do see a difference between last year and this spring. He's still got the same stuff -- there's no question he's got an electric arm -- but this spring it seems to me he's pitching more than last year," Anderson said.
"Last year, he just kind of stuffed it up there and it didn't seem like there was any rhyme or reason to what he was doing. This year, it seems like he's starting to polish himself and become more of a pitcher, use his other pitches and move the ball around in the zone."
Bautista stood as the solid favorite for the fifth starting job when left-hander Jimmy Gobble had a nightmarish outing Saturday against the Seattle Mariners.
Bautista made five starts for the Royals last September. He went 0-4 with a 6.51 ERA, but gave up just four runs in his last two starts and 12 innings.
Now comes the next step: refining his art and the thought processes that go with pitching.
"Sometimes it's just a feel, seeing a hitter's reaction to a ball, just the way he jerked after it or the way he took a swing and your brain instantly will go, 'OK, this will work,' " Anderson said.
"It's something you can work on and improve at, but part of it is just instinct. Either you have it or you don't. But a good catcher can help you notice that and I think (John) Buck will help because he takes a lot of pride in his game-calling."
At 6-foot-5, Bautista has filled out from the rail that reported to Double-A Wichita last year to 195 pounds. A genial fellow in the clubhouse, he takes to the mound a mean-looking scowl to accompany that 98-mph heater.
"He's the most intimidating guy I've ever been around," Hansen said. "That's from someone who likes to stand in the batter's box and watch the guys throw."
Cousin Pedro must be proud.
Up next: The Royals will start right-hander Runelvys Hernandez against the Padres at 2:05 p.m. CT on Monday at Peoria, Ariz. Right-hander Tim Stauffer is the Padres' probable starter.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.