Think that hitting a 96 MPH fastball is difficult? Try stepping into the batter’s box and squaring up to an eephus pitch. It looks a lot simpler to do than it really is.
The eephus pitch is one of the rarest pitches in baseball, in part because it’s such a challenge to throw effectively. Pitchers strive to learn how to maintain their mechanics, wanting each motion to look the same as to not tip off the batters about what pitch may be coming. With an eephus pitch, however, everything slows down. The windup, the follow through, even the ball itself come in slower. More often than not, the state of confusion that such a pitch places the batter in can be enough to make it effective.
Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish has been known to throw an eephus pitch on occasion, but he typically will rely on his sharp command and dominating fastball to blow hitters away. It’s a model that’s worked since he arrived in the American League, so there’s little reason to change that approach. It’s just a weapon he’ll hold in his back pocket, in case he ever needs to use it. A small handful of other pitchers in over the years have been known to throw an eephus – such as Orlando Hernandez, Livan Hernandez, Casey Fossum, Satchel Paige, Bob Tewksbury, and others – though none used it regularly.
Kazuhito Tadano is another who’s known to have the ability to throw the pitch. The now 34 year old right-hander had a brief career in the Major Leagues as a member of the Cleveland Indians during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He’d appear in just 15 games, tossing a total of 54.1 IP with a 4.47 ERA and 1.417 WHIP. Most of that action came in relief appearances, but he was primarily a starter in the minor leagues after signing with the Indians as a free agent in 2003. Tadano would pitch at Triple-A through the 2007 season, before returning to his native Japan to continue his career.
That is where he did this, on Sunday.
Pitching for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, where he’s played for the past seven seasons, Tadano was making his season debut over the weekend, throwing an inning in relief when he broke out the eephus pitch. This particular one would be called a ball, but he’d get through the inning without surrendering any damage.
(hat tip to Jack Maloney at FanSided.com for finding the video)