Padres' Bell gaining confidence in curveball

Padres' Bell gaining confidence in curveball

ST. LOUIS -- There's no rhyme or reason as to when Padres closer Heath Bell will throw his curveball, which is considered a plus pitch for him and a big reason why he's reached the 42-save mark for the second time in as many years.

"The best thing about it is that it's a pitch I can throw for strikes," Bell said. "It's a pitch that I learned in high school and I've always been able to throw it. I like it because it can make my fastball that much more effective when hitters know I have a curveball."

According to Fangraphs, Bell is throwing his curveball 29.4 percent of the time in 2010, up from 27.8 percent last season.

Obviously, scouting reports on opposing hitters will dictate to some degree how often he throws the pitch, but he's been known to go through stretches where he'll mostly rely on his fastball and his slider -- with his curveball effectively going AWOL for long periods.

"Last year, in the first month or two, I was throwing my fastball more because I thought people were sitting on my curveball," Bell said. "I will go in stretches where I throw it a lot. Then there are times when I don't throw it that often."

Take Bell's outing in Monday's 6-4 victory over the Rockies. With one out in the ninth inning and one baserunner on, Bell threw Dexter Fowler four fastballs before getting him to swing through a curveball for a third strike.

"It's been that way for four years -- his stuff hasn't varied over the four years here," Padres manager Bud Black said. "There are times, obviously, when his velocity will dip a little bit and it might not be as crisp, but he's been really consistent."

So just because Bell comes sprinting in from the bullpen, especially at PETCO Park, with his entrance music blaring over the loudspeakers, doesn't mean that he's going to come in blowing smoke, firing away with fastball after fastball.

Sometimes, less is more.

"The curve can come at any time," Black said. "It can come 3-2, the bases loaded or after throwing 10 straight fastballs. How about the other day against the Dodgers? He hadn't pitched in nine days, and the first pitch he threw was a curve for a strike."