Submarine pitchers Ziegler, Tekulve enjoy bond
Former Pirates All-Star shares stories, technique with D-backs' closer
PHOENIX -- Brad Ziegler and Kent Tekulve had never met, and a generation separated their playing careers. But when the two sat down together to talk recently in the visitors' dugout at PNC Park, the shared bond between the two was evident.
Ziegler, the D-backs' current closer, and Tekulve, who pitched in the big leagues from 1974-89, are part of a unique baseball fraternity of pitchers who throw with a submarine style.
"I think he probably likes seeing those guys succeed and knowing that he's one of the founding fathers of a delivery like that," Ziegler, 33, said following the meeting.
Tekulve, 66, keeps up with baseball for his role on the Pirates' pregame and postgame broadcasts, but he does keep a special eye out for those pitchers like Ziegler and Orioles reliever Darren O'Day, who throw using the submarine style that he used.
"Because the delivery is so different, you take notice," Tekulve said. "You try to evaluate it and think, 'What do you think he's [doing] right? What's he doing different?'"
Ziegler came to the submarine style of pitching while in the Minor Leagues with the A's in 2007. In going from an overhand starter to a submarine reliever, he also transformed himself from a fringe prospect to a quality Major League reliever. Since then, Ziegler has had to battle one of the main stereotypes that comes with that style of pitching.
"The first thing that comes out of everybody's mouth is that you can't get left-handers out," Tekulve said. "You're not throwing from behind the left-handed hitter, it's not as difficult for him to see. It's not breaking away from him on the breaking ball. The advantages you have against right-handers, they disappear against left-handers."
However, that does not mean it cannot be done.
"I played for a lot of years and pitched a lot of innings, and I guarantee you they weren't all right-handed hitters," Tekulve said.
Ziegler has improved at getting lefties out the last couple of seasons, thanks to a changeup that he has honed. It was Ziegler's best pitch as an overhand pitcher, and the fact that he's been able to master it impressed Tekulve, because he tried multiple variations of the pitch during his long career.
"I never could come up with anything that was something I knew I could hang my hat on," Tekulve said.
Tekulve then grabbed a baseball and showed Ziegler how he threw his slider.
"He just tried to hook his wrist when he's throwing a slider to get downward movement, and that, to me, just sounds like it hurts," Ziegler said. "I haven't had a lot of trouble with my slider at this point, so it's not something I'm looking to switch, but down the road if I'm looking for an adjustment ... I just tuck that stuff away for later."
One thing that was apparent is the two had put quite a bit of thought into their craft. Ziegler continually is trying to find ways to get better, as his offseason spent mastering the changeup indicates.
"What I really liked was his thought process about it," Tekulve said. "He didn't think totally about results. He was thinking more about how to get to the results, which is something I respect. He's very cerebral about it."
Tekulve would seek out people throughout his career who he thought might be able to help give him the edge.
"I thought it was fascinating," Ziegler said of talking to Tekulve. "To be 20 years removed from your career and still remember as much stuff as he does about little nuances, little changes that he made along the way. I can look at my delivery now and see differences, but I don't know necessarily why they got that way, and it felt like he had a reason for everything."
The 20-minute meeting went by quickly, and while much was covered, the two barely scratched the surface.
"I wish I had a little bit more time, because there's actually a whole lot of things he could do," Tekulve said. "He's doing a lot with what he's got right now, but there's a lot of different things he can do that would give him more options with different times, particularly with left-handed hitters."
With that, Tekulve launched into a discussion about how his fastball was really three different pitches based on what direction he pointed his fingers at the release.
It seems a pretty safe bet that the two will talk again, as they now have each other's cell phone numbers. Ziegler texted Tekulve a message thanking him for being so generous with his time.
"Anything for a fellow submariner," Tekulve texted back.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.