Editor’s note: Friday night’s game between the Indians and Oakland Athletics was not completed in time for this edition. For the result, visit www.ohio.com.
OAKLAND, Calif.: Nobody talks about the impact of the pitcher’s mound on a game.
After all, they are just there. Every ballpark has one, and pitcher’s mounds are not exactly an intriguing topic. They are required to be the same height with the same downward slant toward the plate, so what’s there to discuss?
Different pitchers create different take-off indentations at the front edge of the rubber and hollow out different landing areas in that dirt.
“All mounds are different,” Indians starter Justin Masterson said. “I’m a pretty big digger, as far as the landing spot is concerned. The starter sets the tone. It’s more of a problem for relievers.”
By the time a reliever usually enters the game, the takeoff and landing holes are set, and he might be stuck with an uncomfortable situation.
“Big guys like Masterson tear up the mound pretty good,” setup man Vinnie Pestano said. “A lot of time your toe gets in a hole and you land in a hole. The worst for me last year was Oakland; I would land in an enormous hole.
“This year, it’s been a little better. I like to pitch in Anaheim a lot. The mound is one of the better ones around. It keeps its shape. They say they’re all the same, but they’re not.”
Sometimes opposing pitchers neutralize the divots they take out of the dirt.
“John Danks and I are kind of the same, even though he’s a lefty and I’m a righty,” Masterson said. “My toe digs the dirt out [in front of the rubber] and he tries to fill it in.”
And maybe dirt isn’t just dirt.
“Milwaukee and Atlanta seem like they’re all clay,” said Joe Smith, the Tribe’s seventh-inning specialist. “Other places mix in a lot of dirt.”
But the composition of the dirt and the variety of holes made by different pitchers aren’t the only things that make one mound different from another. Though the slope is alleged to be the same for each pitching surface, it’s virtually impossible to maintain that kind of uniformity.
“They say they’re all supposed to be the same, but they’re not,” Pestano said. “If the slope isn’t quite right, it can be tough to get on top of the ball.”
Pitchers even notice relatively tiny differences in the rubber. According to Masterson, some rubbers aren’t centered precisely toward home plate.
“Every once in awhile you’ll get a rubber that’s not exactly facing the plate,” he said. “It’s just a little off.”
Smith has a little different complaint.
“I hate pitching in U.S. Cellular Field,” he said. “Half of the rubber is angled down instead of being flat. All you can do is try to move some place where you feel more comfortable.”
Another thing pitchers notice when they are standing on the mound is the background. It’s no secret that hitters are sensitive to what they are looking at behind center field. But who thinks about what a pitcher sees behind the catcher? Pestano, for one.
“At some ballparks, the catcher is farther from the stands [behind him] than at other parks,” he said. “In Oakland, it seems like the plate is about 120 feet from the stands; in Anaheim it seems like it’s about 40 feet. When the distance is shorter, you feel like you’re right on top of the hitter, which is a good thing.”
Things like a muddy pitcher’s mound or holes that have been dug too deep by one pitcher to the discomfort of another can be repaired by the grounds crew. But pitchers seldom summon them for help.
“The other teams’ guys are OK with it,” Pestano said. “So you don’t want to be the guy who calls out the grounds crew.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.