McGee could ride curveball to Midsummer Classic

McGee could ride curveball to Midsummer Classic

BALTIMORE -- When Jake McGee threw a curveball to strike out Manny Machado to seal the Rays' 5-4 win against the Orioles at Camden Yards on Saturday, the rest of Major League Baseball was put on notice.

The relief pitcher was already a possible All-Star while throwing exclusively fastballs. An effective breaking ball makes him even more dangerous.

"I don't know how much people use the conventional scout in the stands anymore," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "but through the wonderful world of video, I'm sure they have all that already."

One out away from his second save in as many days, McGee stared down Machado, who had homered earlier in the game.

With the count at 1-2, McGee wanted to try his curve, but catcher Ryan Hanigan called for a fastball. The lefty missed his spot to even the count at 2-2.

"I wanted one before," McGee said, "then I missed up and away, and [Hanigan] was like, 'All right, let's go curveball.'"

At first it felt like a risk. He knew if he hung the pitch, then the Orioles' third baseman could tie the game with one swing.

"So I was like, 'If I throw it low -- even if I bounce it at 50 feet -- it's a different pitch,'" McGee said.

A year ago, McGee occasionally used his slider as a strikeout pitch. On 2-2 counts, when he could afford to throw a ball, he would try to get opposing hitters to chase.

Too often, though, it would lead to big hits. In 2013, he allowed a career-high eight home runs.

"My curveball, I feel more comfortable, like I can use it when I want to use it more than my slider," McGee said. "I gave up a lot of home runs on it and stuff, and I stayed away from it a lot, but my curveball has enough break to where I'm not going to get beat with it a lot. I'll maybe get a dribbler here and there, but I'm not going to give up a big home run more often than [with] my slider."

Even without a quality secondary pitch for much of the season, McGee has held opposing hitters to just a .158 average while posting a 1.27 ERA. This season, he's yet to allow a homer entering play Sunday.

McGee certainly has All-Star-caliber stuff -- Maddon has been outspoken in support of his candidacy. An extra pitch to go along with a high-90s fastball could help him sustain this level of production.

"To be able to lace that within the other stuff that he's doing with the fastball," Maddon said, "it makes the fastball closer to 100."

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.

David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.