Juan Morillo’s place in Twins history, obscure as it is, is in danger.
On April 27, 2009, mopping up the ninth inning of a forgettable 7-1 loss to the Rays at the Metrodome, the little-known righthander accomplished something that few noticed at the time, but which still remains unique today: He threw a fastball 100 miles per hour; 100.3, to be exact.
More than seven years later, that swinging strike two to Akinori Iwamura remains the only pitch ever thrown by a Twin that registered triple digits on MLB’s pitchf/x tracking system. Not only was the achievement not celebrated, but Morillo’s major league career ended with a demotion, and eventually a release, only six pitches later.
Morillo’s fastball finally is about to have company, though. Pat Light, who threw 100 mph for Class AAA Rochester earlier this month, was added to the Twins roster over the weekend, and made his debut in relief Tuesday night. J.T. Chargois, who has occasionally topped 100 in the minors, is in the bullpen, too. And Ryan Pressly, who last month threw two 99-mph fastballs in a game against the White Sox, may be on the verge of joining that club, too.
“I hope so. That would be pretty cool,” said Pressly, who at the age of 27 is throwing harder this season than ever before. “I’ve tried. Everybody tries to hit a hundred. But I’ve never got there.”
Of course not; he’s a Twin. And while baseball has become awash in extreme velocity over the past few seasons, Minnesota has been left in the slow lane. They’re not alone, though; the Brewers have registered 100 mph on only two pitches, the Indians three. On the other extreme, the otherworldly Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman has thrown 1,767 of them through Sunday, or 40 percent of the MLB total in that time. He’s also the only pitcher to ever have been timed at 104 and even 105 mph.
In the nine seasons since pitchf/x was installed in MLB stadiums, 81 different pitchers have been clocked at 100-plus, though 44 of them, like Morillo, have thrown fewer than 10 such pitches.
Among them: Ervin Santana. Yes, that Ervin Santana, back when he was a 25-year-old All-Star with the Angels in 2008.
“I used to, yes,” Santana said of his 100-mph heyday. But these days, he tops out at 96 mph, and that’s fine with him. “It’s nice, but if it’s that hard, you’re not pitching, you’re just throwing,” Santana, now a 33-year-old veteran, said. “If you throw that hard, you just want to blow everybody out. But when you get more mature, you do more pitching.”
That’s because extreme velocity may be a valuable weapon — but it’s a predictable one, too.
“Sometimes I’ll be more comfortable at the plate if guys are throwing harder, because they don’t have as much movement, and you know that’s what they’re throwing on big pitches,” three-time batting champion Joe Mauer said. “It definitely helps if you have velocity, but [pitching is] more about location and movement. That’s been proven over the test of time. Velocity is nice, but location and movement are more important to getting a hitter off-balance.”
Especially against experienced hitters. Young players may have better reflexes for reaching the fastest pitches, but they’re more anxious, too.
“Most young hitters, it speeds them up to where they don’t trust. Not a lot of guys have learned to believe they can see something moving that fast and trust they can recognize before they have to decide what to do with it,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s like when you teach defense: The harder a ball’s hit, the softer you have to get. It’s the same way: the harder a guy throws, the quieter you have to get. But it’s a hard principle to learn.”
And it’s a fun pitch to throw. Light remembers the first time his fastball touched triple digits. It was Aug. 25, 2014, when he was with the Class A Salem (Va.) Red Sox.
“I just felt better than usual that day, and in the first inning, I struck out [former Royals No. 1 pick] Bubba Starling on a fastball,” recalled Light, who was acquired in a trade with Boston three weeks ago. “My buddy comes up to me in the dugout and says, ‘Dude, I think that was 100.’ We had pitchers sitting in the stands [charting pitches], so I looked at my teammate over there and he [mouths], ‘One … zero … zero.’ That was pretty cool.”
Coolness is definitely part of the appeal of the extreme fastball. Light said he pretended to throw 100 when he was a kid, and Pressly imagines gloating about it now.
“If you can hit triple digits, you’re going to tell your kids someday and brag to your friends. ‘Yeah, I throw 100 miles an hour,’ ” Pressly practiced. “And it makes hitters respect your fastball a little better. It allows you to make a few more mistakes in the [strike] zone than a guy throwing 88-90.”
Light admits he occasionally peeks at in-stadium velocity meters, hoping to see that third digit light up. And when it does, it adds to his confidence.
“The harder the better. It’s just tougher for guys to catch up to,” Light said. “Sometimes it can be really valuable, if you have two strikes on a guy and you want to elevate a fastball. I can’t say I don’t try for 100.”
So does Pressly — but he’s realistic about it.
“It would be nice to hit 100,” he said, “but 100 down the middle gets hit a long way.”