Changeup transformed Frasor's career
By mastering pitch, Jays reliever finds success on mound
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jason Frasor ducked around a corner and fumbled through his equipment bag, searching for a baseball. The Blue Jays reliever returned and spun the ball in his right hand until the seams were aligned perfectly between his index and middle fingers.
"Like this," said Frasor.
He then spread the two digits farther apart along the ball and turned his hand back and forth to show off the grip -- the one used for his unique changeup. It looked simple enough. And the way Frasor explained how he throws the pitch, it sounded simple, too.
For hitters, though, finding a way to successfully hit Frasor's changeup has proved to be a bit more complex. It's an offering that took years of practice, but it was not until Frasor spent one weekend in Nashville, Tenn., two winters ago that he finally made it work.
All of a sudden, Frasor had transformed himself as a pitcher.
The confidence issues he battled for years began to fade away. The uncertainty of his role within the Blue Jays' bullpen disappeared. Frasor used to wonder if his time as a big leaguer was nearing an end. Now he is entering a contract year, and the only unanswered question is whether Toronto will hand him the closer's role.
"It changed my career," Frasor said. "It changed my life."
The particular changeup that Frasor features is often referred to as a "fosh" pitch. It is a hybrid grip that combines elements of a split-fingered fastball and a circle change. Out of Frasor's right hand, it initially looks similar to his fastball -- the one that the 5-foot-9 pitcher can push up to 95 mph at times -- but the drop-off in speed makes it extremely difficult to hit.
By the time a right-handed hitter begins his swing, Frasor's changeup is diving to the inside edge of the plate and toward the bat handle. For lefties, the pitch dances down and away. It is a third pitch to complement the hard fastball and slider that Frasor also throws. The only difference between his four-seam fastball and changeup is the baseball's rotation.
"How many hitters can recognize that?" he said with a shrug. "I don't know."
Last season, the pitch helped the 32-year-old Frasor fashion a career season out of the Blue Jays' bullpen. He finished 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 61 games, finishing 36 contests and notching 11 saves as a part-time stopper. Across 57 2/3 innings, Frasor collected 56 strikeouts and issued just 16 walks. This after handing out 32 free passes one season earlier.
It was a drastic upgrade over Frasor's first five years as a reliever for Toronto. From 2004-08, he posted a 4.03 ERA with a 1.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 281 games. Last year, Frasor had a 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In nearly every area, Frasor's results improved dramatically, but the pitcher is confident that it was not a fluke showing.
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Frasor believes he can do it again.
"I was just telling somebody that I don't feel like last year was just a string of good luck," Frasor said. "I feel like, with the changeup, I was much more consistent, and I can carry that over to this year and the next year and the year after that. If you have a changeup, you can pitch forever."
Blue Jays pitching coach Bruce Walton originally showed Frasor how to throw the changeup during the 2004 season. The right-hander worked on the pitch over and over, but he never really got the hang of it. Along the way, Frasor tried mixing in a curveball, but he abandoned that pitch and became more of a fastball and slider specialist.
The results were always mixed, though.
"It's been on and off -- mostly off -- for the first five years," Frasor said. "But I just kind of simplified it."
One weekend did the trick.
"That's all it took," Frasor said with a smile.
Frasor's agent introduced him to former big league pitcher Doug Bochtler, who now runs a pitching clinic in Nashville. Bochtler's specialty is the changeup, and Frasor decided to head to Tennessee two offseasons ago to work with the instructor on the pitch. Bochtler explained his approach and everything changed in a hurry for Frasor.
He finally got it.
Rather than worrying about the entire grip and motion, Frasor was taught to concentrate only on the middle finger while throwing the pitch. Frasor applies more pressure with that finger while bringing his arm around and then he concentrates on how the ball feels spinning off the finger as he releases. Just like that, Frasor had his new weapon.
"It's funny," Frasor said with a laugh. "When you walk through his pitching clinic, there's always high school kids, and [Bochtler] walks around giving everybody the middle finger, because that's the finger for the changeup. It's not meant to be, 'Screw you,' it's, 'That's all you've got to worry about is that one finger. That's it.'"
Hitters can't sit and wait for Frasor's fastball, especially now that the pitcher is beginning to gain even more control over the changeup as a strikeout pitch. As a result, Frasor's confidence is admittedly higher than it's been in his career. Frasor's transformation is one reason why Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said he believes the changeup is the best pitch in baseball.
"This kid gained a lot of confidence last year and he was successful," Gaston said. "You'd give him the ball and he did a great job for us. He really just got over the hump last year."
Gaston is considering Frasor, Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg for the primary closer's job this spring. Frasor said he will be comfortable in any role during the upcoming season, but he admitted that working in the ninth inning is something he would enjoy doing again.
"It's the best role," Frasor said. "If I had that role again, I'm honored to have that, because there's some pretty good pitchers on this team."
In past springs with Toronto, Frasor sometimes doubted he would even make the Opening Day roster. Here he is, six years later, ranked fifth in franchise history in games finished and sixth all-time in appearances. If Frasor pitches in 58 games this year, he will join Blue Jays greats Duane Ward, Tom Henke and Dave Stieb as the only pitchers to appear in at least 400 games for the club.
Frasor is amazed he has lasted this long.
"I can't believe I'm here," he said. "I was supposed to be released from the Blue Jays many, many times from what I hear, from what I've read. All of a sudden, I'm going on my seventh year with these guys and I love it here."
That said, Frasor knows he has a great opportunity ahead as a free agent after this year.
"It's exciting," he said. "I feel as good now and as confident as I've ever been in my stuff. I don't think I throw as hard as I did in '04 or '05, but that's all right. I have a changeup."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.