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Giants’ Camilo Doval shows off an intriguing new pitch in a dominant save

Doval showcases intriguing new pitching in save vs. Cubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants took a two-run lead into the ninth inning on Thursday night, and when the bullpen door opened for closer Camilo Doval, he went through his normal routine. He walked slowly through the opening and stretched as he touched the outfield grass, then began his normal jog that was as relaxed as you could possibly imagine from someone tasked with recording the final three outs. But this time, there was a twist.

Doval’s warm-up song had been changed to an upbeat remix of “Tequila,” a suggestion from Abe Silvestri, the Giants’ senior director of team operations. The louder parts of the song were punctuated by blasts from the water cannons on the arcade, an idea from Doval.

It was when he took the mound, though, that the biggest change was on display.

Doval started mixing in a sinker just before the All-Star break and he threw it more than his two other pitches while striking out three of the four Chicago Cubs he faced en route to his 13th save. Doval had thrown 17 sinkers in his three previous outings but threw nine of them Thursday, getting five strikes, including three swings and misses. Both Willson Contreras and Nico Hoerner struck out on the pitch.

“I mean, it’s gross,” catcher Joey Bart said, laughing. “Him honing in on that pitch and understanding when to use it, it’s definitely going to make it elite.”

Because this is Doval — a 25-year-old with a comically gifted right arm — that we’re talking about, the sinker was coming in at an average of 97.4 mph. It maxed out at 98.8 but Doval has thrown it as hard as 99.9 mph this month since bringing it into games. Bart couldn’t believe how firm the pitch was Thursday given how easy Doval’s arm action was.

“He was lobbing it in there and I looked up and it said 99 on the scoreboard,” he said. “I was so spooked.”

The Giants are hopeful it’s opposing hitters who feel that way going forward.

Doval has a 2.81 ERA and averages 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine but he at times has battled inconsistency in his first full season in a big league bullpen. He had back-to-back rough outings in Arizona earlier this month and mixed things up by shaving his head. A few days later, he brought the sinker to a big league mound.

“I was playing with it during my bullpen sessions and I kept telling myself I had to introduce it into a game because it was feeling really good,” Doval said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “When the second half started, that’s when I was like, I’m going to start using it more.”

Doval threw a sinker in the low minors but it was inconsistent, and since emerging as the Giants’ closer last September, he has relied exclusively on a slider and a fastball that is held with a four-seam grip but has so much natural movement that it has turned into a 100 mph cutter. Both pitches can be devastating, but Doval has at times been burned by opposing hitters who are seeing the same movement profile over and over again, even if the velocity is elite. The sinker gives him a pitch that can get in on right-handers and move away from left-handers.

“The ceiling of (the sinker) is really high. I think it’s pretty unique and there’s a lot of value in that, especially to right-handed hitters,” pitching coach Andrew Bailey said. “Obviously to lefties it can be a weapon as well. We’re just letting him go compete and seeing how it goes.”

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The early results are promising. Doval has thrown 26 sinkers and has not allowed a hit while getting four strikeouts. He has had a good rookie year, but the Giants know there’s a lot more in there, and they’re excited to see the whole package.

The speakers at Oracle Park don’t allow for the types of entrances that some other closers get — a source of disappointment for many in the clubhouse — but Doval’s teammates were happy to see a more entertaining entrance Thursday. This is a ballpark that once roared when Brian Wilson (“Jump Around”) and Sergio Romo (“El Mechon”) entered a game, and there are many in the organization who hope Doval can soon have the same type of impact.

The young right-hander is much calmer than either of those two, but on Thursday he let a bit more emotion show after the final out, spinning and getting much more air than he usually gets on his end-of-game hop. There was a reason for that.
“It broke the losing streak,” he said.

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