Robert Long: Former RHP Pirates/Mariners


1. Could you tell us your story on dropping down?

  In high school our coach told me to everyone in awhile to drop down or crossfire as it was called back then. I would only do it couple times a game. In college I never did it. Got drafted and then not til High A I dropped once with two strikes and struck out a hitter. Our pitching coach called me over after the game and wanted me to throw from there more ofter. I asked him how much, he replied about 50%. I got to AA the following year and was told to pitch from there 100% of the time. I struggled a bit initially with that but they stuck with me and gave me a chance to work on it. My roommate at the time got asked to play winter ball in Mexico and told them he would only go if they brought me too. Got down to Mexico and things came together from there. Felt strong, got up to 88-89 mph and my breaking ball was really solid. Remember striking out Cal Ripken Jr. a couple times with it. I broke the Mexican League record for saves that winter with 15. Based on my winter league performance I got invited to Big League camp with the Pirates which was right after they had won the World Series. I went to AAA and was stretching my innings out in long relief. Because of a couple call-ups, I was asked to spot-start a game. I went 8IP my first start and got the win. I ended up staying in the rotation and went 15-3 in AAA. I got called up to the Big Leagues as a submarine starter. Our manager Chuck Tanner told me I was starting the next day. Ended up starting on short days rest. Got my first big league K on Ron Cey. 


2. What are some of the advantages you had from your arm angle?


Overall hitters just don't see it very much. Facing a same side hitter, the breaking ball looks like it is going to hit them than it comes back in the strike zone and they buckle. For me the key to pitching is to throw pitches that to the hitter looks like it's going to be a ball than it ends up a strike. Than the reverse throw pitches that look like they are going to be strikes but end up a ball, they chase it. If you can do both of those things you are going to be a pretty successful pitcher. 


3. If you didn't drop down, do you think you would have had the same success?

I seriously doubt it. I was a 24th round draft pick, I wasn't a money guy in their system. Probably wouldn't have made it to AA. Guess they stuck with me a little longer when I dropped down. I remember a former coach of mine asking me one day if I had ever thought of retiring. He had spent 15 years in the minors without making to the bigs because he was stuck behind Brooks Robinson. I guess he pictured me never making it up there. I saw him a couple years after I had gotten called up and he apologized to me. 

4. What would you tell someone debating on changing their arm angle?

 I would tell them to at least give it a try. I coach at a High School and we had a guy who was playing JV as a Jr., he wasn't going to make the team as a SR. So I had him drop down, he had nothing to lose. He was 78-80MPH from the right side, nothing special. Once he dropped down, his ball moved like crazy. He had the same velo and towards the end I think it was faster from there. He ended up being closer and got 8 saves. He is now going to college. He is a good example of someone that needed to drop down and took to it. 

5. Are there any mechanical tips that you'd give to someone throwing sidearm/submarine?

Mechanics wise I think it is very individualized from there. Like I mentioned before most guys that are dropping down are doing it out of desperation so they tend to just work hard at it and end up finding something that works for them. One thing to get used to is that most guys from there tend to fall off a bit with their delivery. That's just where their momentum is taking them. Takes a bit to get used to that when throwing a breaking ball from there. 

6. What pitches did you throw?

Sinker, rising fastball, breaking ball and change-up. Tried a splitter from there since my change up was never really good from down there. With the rising fastball it's something just found by chance one game. Had to get ready to come into game quickly. Wasn't quite warm when manager gave called me in. Got the ball from my catcher and just quickly throw him one more. The grip I had on it was cross-seamed and it just took off. Tried one in a game and struck the batter out. 

7. How did you pitch to lefties/righties?

Tricky thing with facing lefties is that your good strike out breaking ball vs a righty is sometimes going to end up hitting a lefty. With 2 strikes I would throw my rising fastball. I remember vs KC I was able to get 7 straight infield pop ups with my rising fastball. Overall facing lefties I just had to work a lot harder. Versus righties, I was just a lot more confident with my pitches. I think when you are confident on the mound you can almost do anything. Baseball is a mental game. I remember when I went 15-3 in AAA I could do anything on the mound. Seemed like whenever I needed a DP I was able to get the hitter to ground out into one. On the other side of it, if you are pitching scared and worried about hanging a curve to a hitter, well then you are going to end up hanging that curveball. 

8. Lastly what was your favorite part about pitching from down there?

I would say being able to pitch and have a career. I really don’t think I would have gotten to AA. I was 90-91mph, when learned it isn’t about velo it’s about movement, that’s when things started to click for me. It was fun to be able to pitch 7 consecutive days. My legs would get tired but not my arm.