Hoffman picks up where he left off

Hoffman picks up where he left off

SAN DIEGO -- When Trevor Hoffman first made the conversion from shortstop to being a pitcher, he could always rely on his fastball as the pitch to blow by hitters late in games.

But for the better part of the last decade, Hoffman -- the Major League career saves leader -- has used his nasty changeup as his calling card and his primary weapon, a pitch that has served him well over the years.

In that sense, the Padres' 2-1 victory over the Astros on Tuesday at PETCO Park was no different as Hoffman threw plenty of dandy changeups in the ninth inning, including the once Lance Berkman chased to end the game.

But Hoffman showed considerable life on his fastball and was clocked several times at 87 mph. The fastball is of the utmost importance to Hoffman because he can use it to set up that changeup.

Hoffman's ability to throw his fastball 87 mph and his changeup 76 mph illustrated just how important it is to build a considerable gap in speed between the pitches.

Here's why: The hitter sees the same arm action and the same rate of speed at which the ball separates from the glove, making to tough to discern which pitch is coming.

"It's nice when that 11 [mph difference] isn't 84-73 [mph]," Hoffman said. "It makes the hitter pick one side or the other."

In Spring Training, Hoffman briefly toyed with the idea of pitching from a full windup to generate a little more velocity. Hoffman has pitched from the stretch for the last decade and, obviously, it's worked for him to the tune of 525 career saves.

But Hoffman ditched that idea about as quickly as it entered his head. He's back to doing what he's always done. On Tuesday, it worked, as he allowed only an infield single to Hunter Pence before ending the game with the Berkman strikeout.

Hoffman had minor elbow surgery in October, though he doesn't think he's throwing any harder because of it. There is a thought that a pain-free elbow has helped his fastball command. Only time will tell, though.

For now, Hoffman will continue to do what he's done throughout his Major League career.

"That's something I saw a lot last year," Padres manager Bud Black said of Hoffman closing the door in the ninth inning.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.