CINCINNATI — Bronson Arroyo is 40 years old, which is like 70 in pitching years.
As Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price said, “This level demands a lot from the body and it takes a physical toll. He has a ton of mileage on his body and he wants to keep competing. If his arm hangs in there, we’ll see him for the duration of this year.”
If there is a strong wind blowing out toward the mound, some of Arroyo’s soft tosses might not reach home plate.
Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who struck out Sunday gaping at a 72 miles an hour pitch, put it this way: “He probably is throwing below hitting speed right now.”
SO TRUE BECAUSE MOST BATTING practice pitchers throw harder.
But with guile and savvy and impeccable command, Arroyo gets people out. On Sunday, he made the Cubs resembled the first-day Bad News Bears, holding the Cubs to two runs and two hits over six innings with pitches time with an hour glass between 65 miles an hour and 86 miles an hour, most in the mid-70s range.
In the first two innings he threw 23 pitches, 20 for strikes, and the Cubs were flailing at vacant air.
AND IT ISN’T BECAUSE HE is 40 that he throws at below hitting speed. He has done it his entire career. If scouts watched a kid these days throwing the way Arroyo does, they’d laugh and mark their scouting reports with something like, “Are you kidding me?” They would write the initials, “NP,” no prospect.
Arroyo pitched Little League and high school in Key West, Fla., and said laughingly, “A lot of the fans came to games packing.” And he didn’t mean picnic baskets. He meant guns.
AFTER HIS DAZZLING DISPLAY Sunday, he said that throughout his career coaches tried to turn him into a standard pitcher, one like every other, like automobiles moving along an assembly line.
Fortunately for him, he sternly resisted and did it his way.
“Coming up through the minors they never want you to change arm angles on pitches like I do,” said Arroyo. “Basically, everything I do on the mound right now they would never want you to do or let you do in the rookie league, including my high, straight leg kick.
“It took me a long time to prove I could pitch with a little bit of a different style and that took eight years with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the minor leagues,” he added. “It took all the way until I got to the back end of the minors leagues through Double-A and Triple-A when they could see some success did they let me do it.”
THE PIRATES DRAFTED HIM in the third round of the 1995 draft, when Amir Garrett was 3-years-old. They called him up in 2000 and immediately tried to change him.
“They tried to quarantine me and put me in box with everybody else and that didn’t work,” he said.
He was 2-and-6 with a 6.40 earned run average in 2000. The Pirates gave up on him in February, 2003 and placed on waivers. The Red Sox claimed him and let him be Bronson Arroyo. Over the next three years he won 38 games.
Late in spring training in 2006, general manager Wayne Krivsky acquired Arroyo from the Red Sox for cash and Wily Mo Pena, The Steal of the Year.
Pena didn’t survive in Boston and Arroyo logged eight impressive years with the Reds and never missed a start and pitched more than 200 innings in seven of those years and 199 in the other. He won 17 games once, 15 games twice and 14 games twice, including his last season in 2013.
But the Reds didn’t offer him a contract after that season and he signed a free agent deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And his injury problems surfaced, forcing him to miss nearly three seasons.
THE REDS DECIDED TO TAKE a flyer on him for this season and after his first two get-reacquainted starts that were subpar, his last two have been the resurfacing of the old Bronson Arroyo.
“For the first time this year he looked more like the Bronson Arroyo that we remember from the first time through here,” said Price after Arroyo rendered Chicago’s bats as useless on Sunday. “A lot of strikes from different arm angles at different speeds, throwing inside when he needed to, throwing that sidearm sinker, throwing the wrap-around breaking pitch that catches the outside corner against lefties. Just a complete effort by a guy who really knows how to pitch.”
And that means knowing how to pitch his way and not something from a pitching manual.