Anaheim, Calif. — Relief pitcher Doug Corbett, who won eight games and saved 23 last season as an American League rookie, has literally thrown the baseball a crooked mile for the Minnesota Twins.
However, the word crooked does not refer to anything illegal in Corbett's case, only to the weird delivery that Doug traces with his arm before releasing his sinkerball to the hitters.
"I have what is known in baseball as an odd arm," Corbett, who has extreme flexibility in both elbows, told me recently in the visitors's dugout at Anaheim Stadium. "The trajectory of my arm forms as L when I throw, and this is what causes my best pitches to sink. Basically when I release the ball my throwing hand turns toward my body and my arm away from it.
"When I first went into the minor leagues, I expected to be a starting pitcher, the way I had been in college," he continued. "Instead they put me in the bullpen, a move I was not very happy about. I had always been under the impression that managers made pitchers into relievers only after they were convinced they weren't good enough to be starters. But by the time the Twins signed me as a free agent, I had adjusted my thinking."
Corbett says it took him two years working out of the bullpen in the minors before he realized how important a good relief pitcher can be to a team.
"I guess I never noticed before how many games are decided in the late innings," Doug said. "In fact, any team that takes a lead into the seventh inning has got a great chance to win if they've got someone who can come out of the bullpen and make the batter hit the ball on the ground with men on base.
"To most opposing hitters who have been around for a while, I'm no mystery," he continued. "In clutch situations they know I'm going to throw the sinkerball , because you always go with your best pitch. The point is that it doesn't make any difference if you're getting the ball in the strike zone and the hitters keep beating it into the ground."
Minnesota pitching coach Johnny Podres says the thing he likes most about Corbett is that he doesn't give up many hits with men on base.
"When opposing hitters drive in runs against Doug, it's generally because they happened to catch his sinkerball on the handle or the end of the bat and managed to dunk it over the infield," Podres said. "But usually nobody hits him very hard, and he throws that sinker 90 percent of the time, which is all right with me.
"There are a couple of other things you should know about Corbett," Johnny continued. "He seldom walks himself into trouble, and most people don't realize yet that he also has a big league slider and a big league changeup. I mean, the way he throws them, they aren't exactly waste pitches."
Minnesota's 29-year-old righthander, who posted a 1.99 earned-run average in 73 appearances with the Twins last year and was scored on in only 20 games, has started off the same way this season.
So far in 25 innings he has given up only 18 hits, struck out 27 batters, posted a 2.16 ERA, won two games and saved four others -- all with the season just over a month old.
Although most relief pitchers like at least one day off between appearances, Corbett says that it's no problem for him to go two innings on three consecutive days and still be able to throw his best stuff.
"As far as I'm concerned, I've always been a pitcher who needed a lot of work to stay loose and maintain my control," Doug volunteered. "I find that if I don't work three or four times a week my body gets stiff and my arm tightens up, which is why I often warm up in the bullpen even when I know the Twins aren't going to need me."
Asked how many rival American League general managers tried to trade for Corbett during the off season, Minnesota executive vice-president Howie Fox replied:
"There are always a few teams that ask about your best players and we had the usual feelers about Doug. But when you have no intention of trading a certain player, there is no way of knowing just how serious some of those feelers could become."