ORLEANS ---- Orleans Firebirds left-hander Kenny Long (Illinois State) will not intimidate anyone with his presence on the mound. Neither will any of his pitches.
Long doesn’t possess the normal pedigree of most Cape League relievers; a mid-90s fastball and a solid second pitch. Instead, he features a seldom-used fastball that hits a mere 84 and an array of off-speed pitches thrown from various angles.
“He throws pooh, and he throws slop and he throws strikes,” Orleans field manager Kelly Nicholson told the Cape Cod Times after two perfect innings from Long against Cotuit last Friday.
Nicholson speaks from experience.
“I can say that because I was a pooh-slinger myself. If I was breaking 80, I was throwing the ball firm that day,” he said.
While the comments may appear disparaging, they are compliments to what Long has been able to achieve with the pitches he throws. Not one pitch in his outing against Cotuit topped 75, but he was able to strike out four straight batters.
“I thought it was pretty funny,” Long said about his coach’s comments. “It’s the reaction I get from most people when they see me throw. I take it as a compliment. As long as I keep getting outs with it, they can’t keep dismissing me.”
Long stands just 6-0 and weighs 150, and is the dictionary definition of a crafty lefty. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot and can also come over the top to mix up the eyesight of the batters. And while he features a fastball, he relies heavily on a sweeping curve that he calls a “frisbee” and a mixture of breaking pitches that range from 69 to 75 mph.
“He doesn’t throw the ball straight,” Nicholson said. “Most of the guys you see are 89-93 and occasionally a guy 95-plus. Hitting is timing, and all we’re trying to do on the mound is disrupt that timing. He has done a great job of disrupting it so far.”
While it may be difficult to hit, the thought process for Long is pretty simple.
“I only know how to pitch one way and that’s off-speed, off-speed, off-speed,” he said. “I can probably count on my fingers and toes how many fastballs I threw (this spring).”
This spring at Illinois State, Long picked up nine saves and finished third in the nation with a 1.38 ERA in 65.1 innings. Opposing batters hit just .180 against the lefty. This summer, he has started out equally impressive with a 1-1 record, one save and a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings. In his last three outings. he has struck out 11 of 23 batters.
Surprisingly, this is just the first full year Long has been pitching from the three-quarter arm angle. He picked it up last fall during practice and has developed himself into a shutdown reliever.
“It’s worked for me all year,” he said. “The first couple outings it took a bit to get used to. It really caught on quick after that.”
The change of pace might be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Firebirds. The Orleans staff features several starters and relievers that can top out in the low to mid-90’s. This means that opposing teams will have to adjust from a 94 mph fastball to a breaking ball in the low-70s.
The game plan has worked so far as the left-hander has continued to perfect his craft on the Cape.