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Jonathan Papelbon believes he has the secret to future success

03.03.11 at 7:40 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. ‘€“ Jonathan Papelbon can remember the exact moment he made the commitment to his new pitch.

‘€œI remember being in Yankee Stadium, throwing a few of them to [Mark] Teixeira and one to [Derek] Jeter,’€ the Red Sox closer said. ‘€œI remember throwing one to Jeter and he check-swung. He got the call ‘€“ even though it was a strike ‘€“ but I remember him specifically looking at me and looking like he was thinking, ‘€˜Where did that come from?’€™ From then on I said I am going to start using this pitch any time, all the time.’€

The pitch Papelbon refers to his is slider, and he insists it will be a difference-maker this season.

‘€œThis is the most confident I’€™ve felt about a breaking pitch,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s right where I want it to be. I’€™m going to throw it as much as my split. I’€™ll have three pitches I can throw from 0-0, to 3-2.’€

Last season, Papelbon threw the pitch 111 times, compared to the 202 occasions he utilized his back-up plan pitch, the splitter. Against the slider, hitters managed a .154 batting average, compared to a .240 clip vs. the split.

The closer didn’€™t unleash any sliders in his first spring training outing, in which the reliever threw just six pitches. But he has been breaking it out on a regular basis during his bullpen sessions.

They have been practice pitches his fellow relievers have taken note of.

‘€œWe throw every day so I see a lot of it,’€ said Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard. ‘€œIt seemed at times he would get on the side of it and it would have that Frisbee action and it wasn’€™t an effective pitch for him. The one he’€™s throwing this year, I don’€™t know if he’€™s gripping it different, but it’€™s got depth, it’€™s late. It looks like a plus pitch the way he’€™s throwing it right now. It looks like something has changed a little bit. It’€™s a later and sharper pitch than it was last year.’€

It wasn’€™t as if Papelbon didn’€™t have a slider in his repertoire before. In ‘€™09 he threw the pitch 107 times, it was just that hitters managed a .273 batting average when facing it. And he also had integrated into his arsenal during his days as a starter, both in the minors and then briefly in spring training of ‘€™07.

But this time, according to Papelbon, it’€™s going to be different.

‘€œI had a good slider. I had an awesome slider,’€ he said. ‘€œI was throwing a slider, I was throwing it a lot, but then I stopped throwing it for four years. You lose the feel for it. I’€™m excited about it.’€

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