By: Nick Ashbourne
Canadian Baseball Network
From a purely baseball standpoint, relievers often lack for complexity.
They tend to possess limited arsenals, throw hard and make their livings getting three men out at a time. From a personal standpoint they range from intense old-school types like Jonathan Papelbon to lovable goofs like Sean Doolittle, but on the mound they are a relatively homogeneous collection of blunt instruments.
As Calgary, Alta., native Jim Henderson is finding out this season, there's nothing wrong with that. It's too early to call 33-year-old's return to the big leagues a success just yet, but he has looked good coming out of the New York Mets bullpen. Right now, he's doing it with the most bare-bones strategy there is: just throw fastballs.
So far, Henderson, the Okotoks Dawgs Hall of Famer, has thrown 88.4 percent fastballs. Only Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers has leaned on his hard stuff more frequently. In a recent outing against the Philadelphia Phillies, he struck out the side on 17 pitches, 16 of which were fastballs. He got Cedric Hunter, Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel all with the same high heat.
Henderson has faced 24 hitters over his first seven outings and struck out seven of them, allowing just four hits. The only run he has given up came in a game last Wednesday in which that he certainly shouldn't have appeared due to his heavy workload the previous night. The idea that being overworked at big-league level is even a possibility for Henderson right now shows how far he's come since his shoulder surgery following the 2014 season.
The reason the right-hander was so tired in that game is that he engaged in the most epic at-bat of the season the previous night. With the game tied in the eighth, Henderson engaged in a 16-pitch brawl with Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins.
In typical fashion that confrontation began with 15 consecutive fastballs. Gordon couldn't quite get around on the pitch, but to his credit he fought every one off.
Finally, Henderson went to the slider and the Marlins' second baseman managed a cheap hit.
There's certainly something to be said for mixing it up, but one wonders what would have happened in Henderson had kept pumping the fastball in there.
Baseball is intensely strategic, and as such it often finds itself being compared to games like chess. That doesn't mean that everyone plays it with finesse. Hitters like Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez found great success in the past with nothing more than a "see the ball hit the ball" mindset in their tactical repertoire. Not everyone has to be Joey Votto at the plate or Greg Maddux on the mound.
Henderson throws baseballs very hard. That is his strongest skill, and he's riding that as far as it will take him. It's not rocket science, but it is effective. The way Henderson's pitching isn't much like chess, so far it's more like red rover. He's challenging hitters to come on over, and so far they can't with any kind of consistency.
Baseball can be an extraordinarily complicated game, but for Henderson it doesn't have to be.