Balfour's success comes from fastball

Balfour's success comes from fastball

CLEVELAND -- Grant Balfour is a fastball pitcher, make no bones about it. When he enters the game from the bullpen, opposing hitters can expect to see the old No. 1 on most pitches.

When Balfour arrived for good with the Rays in 2008, his heaters would touch 97 mph, a fact pitching coach Jim Hickey attributed to Balfour having his mechanics in perfect order.

Balfour went 6-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings in 2008, while walking just 24. He experienced a lull in '09 that saw him go 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings, with 33 walks.

The Aussie native is doing well this season, posting an 0-1 record with a 2.20 ERA, while striking out 41 in 41 innings and walking just 11 entering Sunday.

Most times when Balfour enters a game, his fastball can be expected to be at 93 or 94 mph. Shortly before the All-Star break his pitches were cutting the strike zone at 90-to-91 mph, which begged the question: How does a fastball pitcher adjust to not having his fastball?

"I might want to use the breaking ball a little more in a fastball count," Balfour said. "I mean, I'm still going to pitch to my strengths. On days when I don't feel like I've got as good of a fastball as normal, I'll try to finish him off with a breaking ball, something like that. Probably just use my breaking ball a little bit more."

Balfour got some good rest during the All-Star break and saw his velocity get back to normal at the beginning of the second half.

"It feels good to come out and have some good late life on it. It's always a plus," Balfour said.

Balfour will usually take a peek at the scoreboard to check his velocity.

"I'll look up some days just to see a couple and see where I'm at to see how I feel," Balfour said. "Usually you can tell anyway. Some days you can feel it. Some days you don't feel good and you're actually better than you think."

No matter how Balfour is equipped on any given day, he's not about to panic, because there are some things more important than having your top velocity.

"I like to have it there, definitely," Balfour said. "I use my fastball a lot, so I like to have it there, have some good velocity on that. So it's definitely nice to have. Obviously you still have to be hitting spots, because as you know in this league, you throw 98 mph down the middle, they're going to hit it."