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03/31/09 4:58 PM ET

Sonnanstine aiming to add changeup

Pitch would enhance Rays righty's effectiveness against lefties

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Andy Sonnanstine's pitching philosophy sounds simple: "My goal is to get them out in three pitches or less."

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The Rays right-hander believes in the virtues of said mind-set, and will quickly rattle off the reasons why.

"That limits the time my fielders are out there waiting on the ball to get put in play," Sonnanstine said. "[It] limits the number of pitches I throw, so it gets me deeper into the game. And it saves our 'pen. There are a lot of good things that can happen if you do that."

Sonnanstine became the first Rays starter to go seven innings this spring when he allowed five runs in seven innings in Tuesday's 8-7 loss against the Red Sox. He went 13-9 with a 4.38 ERA in 2008 by keeping it simple. Now he's trying to add a changeup to give him another weapon to help accomplish his goal on a more consistent basis.

"It's tough, because you always want to be adding something or working on something," Sonnanstine said. "And I understand I had a good year with what I had. But I can have an even better year with a pitch I can possibly go to in crucial spots."

But the process has been a difficult one this spring.

"It's been a roller-coaster-type deal with me this spring when it comes to that pitch," Sonnanstine said. "Some days, it will feel really good. The next day, it will feel like it's the worst it's ever been.

"The toughest thing is trying to feel what you're doing and not getting the action you want. So it's something I really want to iron out and it's been tough."

In the past, Sonnanstine has employed other pitches to serve as his changeup.

"A lot of times, I'll vary the speed of my slider or curveball, because I can get that curveball down to about 65 [mph]," Sonnanstine said. "That's something that kind of gets all their weight forward."

Rays manager Joe Maddon understands the difficulty of adopting the changeup.

"It's a feel thing, and as you learn it, the tendency is you want to influence it as you throw it and not just throw it," Maddon said. "And you have to get beyond that and trust the grip. I think he's getting beyond that now to where he trusts the grip more."

While the pitch is tough to master, Maddon believes in what Sonnanstine is trying to accomplish.

"[Having a changeup] further enhances his effectiveness against left-handed hitters," Maddon said. "Last year, he just got more aggressive with his fastball and he became better against the lefty. But then he adds a little changeup with a little fade to it that makes it even better.

"Primarily against the righties, he's got a lot of good weapons. So if he's able to do the changeup, it makes him even more effective potentially against the lefty."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.