The spiked or knuckle curve, whichever you prefer to call it, is one of my best pitches. I spike my index finger up on the ball and hold it like a curveball. It's supposed to have a tighter spin. I've been throwing it my whole career. I've been throwing that pitch for so long I can't even throw a regular curveball anymore.
When it's going good, the pitch is a heartbreaker. When I get going with it, the ball breaks a lot. It's hard to use as a reliever, though, because you need to develop a feel for it each time out. When I was starting, I had several innings to get it working. Coming out of the bullpen now, I really have to work on it a lot in the bullpen. When I'm feeling that pitch, I throw it a lot.
I learned to throw the spiked curve in A ball from my coach. I didn't throw it at all during games that year because I didn't know where the pitch would end up. But I kept working on it during the following offseason and came back the next year and led the league in strikeouts. It's a hard pitch to control and not everybody can use it, but it's worked well for me, so I'm going to keep throwing it.
I've had lots of arm surgeries, but I don't know if it's been because of wear and tear from pitching or a specific pitch I've thrown. Back in the day, conventional wisdom was that everyone who threw splits always had arm trouble, so I never really tried to develop a split. I had already gone through an elbow surgery, so I didn't want to mess with that. As a pitcher, everything you throw is hard on your arm. Working with the trainers and keeping up with the weights is all part of making sure your arm stays healthy.
There are a few guys out there who throw a spiked curve, including Mike Mussina. I've tried to show it to people at times, but it's a hard pitch to throw. When they start throwing it, they have no idea where the ball is going, so they end up going back to their regular curveball. It was something that took me a long time to learn. I think you can really get away with more mistakes with that pitch than with any other.
When I come out of the bullpen, I don't specifically plan to throw certain pitches. I go with what felt good while I was warming up in the bullpen. I don't want to be a two-pitch pitcher. You have freaks like Mariano Rivera who throw one pitch, a cut fastball, and he's perfected it. Trevor Hoffman is more of a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball and changeup.
I'm not like that. I want to keep people off balance. I try to mix in everything I can. With the scouting reports we have and the video we get, I know what the hitters can hit. You just kind of go at each hitter with different pitches.
Closer Jason Isringhausen pitched in 59 games for St. Louis this past season and saved 33 of them before undergoing season-ending hip surgery in September. He has 249 career saves, and his 173 saves with the Cards ranks him first on the franchise's all-time list.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.