PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Left-hander Tony Watson was called upon with one out, two runners on, and the tying run on second base in the eighth inning on Saturday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Looking calm and collected as the fans were on their toes at PNC Park, Watson struck out Matt Carpenter swinging on an 0-2 slider.
“It was a situation where you got to come in and get some weak contact, get a ground ball,” Watson said. “That’s the tying run on second base so looking to get early in the count, get the count in my favor. Fortunately it ended in a strikeout.”
High-leverage situations like those are a common theme for the left-hander. Watson may not have a full season in the big leagues yet, but he’s proving to be a valuable tool for Manager Clint Hurdle.
“Tony has just taken business one day at a time,” Hurdle said. “He prepares extremely well. He’s conscious in his preparation. Has a lot of self-confidence, demands a lot of himself. He’s always looking to improve. He’s another great guy that uses his eyes and ears, asking good questions…His stuff has been good and clean. His confidence is in a really good place right now.”
“I have been impressed by Tony’s demeanor. There’s times I’m not so sure it’s confidence, the man just doesn’t talk much. Which is very smart because more often than not, and I probably fell into this category as a player, talking sometimes that’s more a sign of lack of self confidence than anything else. You’re trying to talk yourself into being confident, or that you belong, that you’re comfortable. It’s kind of like the guy that continues to tell you that he can hit. If he can hit, you don’t need to tell people he can hit. Great hitters that I’ve run across never talked about what a great hitter they were.”
Watson’s versatility has been useful for Hurdle. The lefty has been used in a left-on-left situations, but has also been used in multiple inning relief, too. What has been big for Watson’s success has been his ability to throw inside on right-handers. He has yet to give up a hit to a righty this season (2.2 innings).
“Pitching inside is huge for me. It opens up the rest of the plate no matter if it’s a lefty or a righty up there,” Watson said. “I got to show inside, throw inside for strikes, be effective there.”
“It’s very simple to me,” Hurdle said on what makes Watson so successful. “He will throw the ball in on right-handers. He will pitch in with a four-seam fastball. That sets up his slider to throw off that plate, the back foot, or at the belt. It gives him a chance to backdoor or throw the changeup. The other thing he’s added is that two-seam fastball. He has no fear. Three out of four lefties are going to work away. This guy’s got no qualms about pitching tight to right-handed hitters.”
“I think he’s always felt freedom to work glove side to right-handers, which really makes him tough…The confidence that he has now is starting to claim in the ability to throw that two-seamer inside to the lefties, work the ball in, sweep the ball away.”
The deception that Watson has with his fastball allows him to have swing and miss stuff.
“There is deception,” skipper Hurdle said. “He’s got long lengthy levers. I think just the fluidity and then the ball comes out of his hand clean. I’ve seen a handful of 93’s in Arizona. That’s legit velocity. Especially from the left side. I think it’s a guy that’s got a nice easy delivery. The ball comes out of his hand hot. And again, the perception with pitching guys in, and command in, makes it probably look a little bit quicker than it actually is as well.”
The 26-year-old broke camp out of spring training for the first time in his professional career. And he continues to be an asset from the Bucco bullpen. Over seven games so far this young 2012 season, Watson has allowed just one earned run on two hits over six innings. He hasn’t walked a batter while striking out three and limiting hitters to just a .105 average.
“Everything is going well so far,” Watson said. “Team is playing well. A lot of guys are doing a lot of good things in here. There’s a long ways to go, but things have been going well for me so far.”