FORT MYERS, Fla. - If Joel Pineiro becomes the man counted on to record the final out in most Red Sox wins this season, the image on field No. 5 yesterday at the team's minor league complex might be momentous.
"I'm pretty happy," said the 28-year-old.
Truth be told, Pineiro had every right to be a tad more effusive in his joy than just "pretty happy." Thanks to six little inches - the distance the righty has dropped his arm angle - David Ortiz, Julio Lugo and Wily Mo Pena, were all greeted with a nice surprise.
"It looked a lot different," Ortiz said, "but I figured it out right away. He made that first pitch and it was like, 'Whoa!'"
"When I found out I was going to throw against them I was pretty excited because they have all seen me a lot of times," said Pineiro. "I told them to tell me if they saw something different or something weird, and they were all like, 'It has more movement, it has more life, and it's moving here and there.' It was a good reaction."
After throwing his final pitch, Pineiro was greeted by Ortiz halfway between the plate and the pitcher's mound. And then it was Lugo who walked over and added his two cents.
Between Ortiz, Lugo, and Pena, the trio had a combined 14 hits in 35 at-bats against the old Pineiro, with the Sox designated hitter totaling a .391 batting average in 23 at-bats. This time it wasn't so easy.
"It's a different look," Lugo said. "When I saw him the first time I was surprised because I didn't know he did it. He looked good to me. He's got more movement on his pitches now."
Former Texas manager Buck Showalter was always a proponent of having a pitcher try a new arm angle before giving up on them. In this case, it was Seattle pitching coach Rafael Chaves who deserves the credit, having pulled Pineiro aside in a mid-August batting practice to work on an idea that just might have helped Boston find its closer.
"The first time I threw it in the bullpen it felt so weird. I was falling off the mound," Pineiro remembered. "Then I did it for the first time in a game and I would throw two pitches down here, and then come back up. My tendency was to want to go back to normal."
By the end of last season Pineiro had started to feel a bit more comfortable in the change of delivery. And when he started his offseason throwing program in Puerto Rico, the new motion finally became the norm.
Perhaps the most important result in the change is the added life it gives Pineiro's out-pitch, the slider. He struggled against right-handed hitters last year ... they hit .332 against him.
But Ortiz, who actually stood in the right-handed batter's box to get a better look at what Pineiro might offer hitters from that side, came away with the image of a completely different pitcher.
"He's got more movement," the Sox slugger said. "He was fine the way he was, but I think it will help him out more against right-handed hitters. He's got really good stuff."
Pineiro, who is competing with Brendan Donnelly, Mike Timlin, and Julian Tavarez for the closer's role, is slated to bust out his new stuff for the first time Wednesday against Minnesota in the Red Sox's first spring training game.
Judging by the smile on his face yesterday, it's a day that can't come soon enough.
"I can't wait to see a video of it because it feels like I'm throwing way down here," said Pineiro, making a sidearm motion. "It was good to face those guys today. I told them I had to change it because they were hitting me all over the place. It's something positive."