Cultivating the Cutter

By Jerry Reuss

Jerry Reuss pitching with his left handReuss’ Cutter Pitch

After the 1979 season, my first with the Dodgers, Tom Lasorda assured me that I would be given consideration for a starting role in 1980. After a combined record of 20-30 from 1977-1979, I was hoping for a place to land and revive my career as a starting pitcher. There would be some hurdles to jump.

In November of 1979, the Dodgers signed Dave Goltz, a 20-game for the Twins in 1977, as a free agent. With Sutton, Hooton, Welch, Rau and now Dave Goltz ahead of me, my prospects were dimmed. When the season began, I was pitching out of the bullpen as the closer (Terry Forster was injured, and Steve Howe was suspended). Lasorda, remembering our conversation, told me that I would have the consideration he promised when someone on the starting staff couldn’t make their scheduled start.

In the meantime, my job was to pitch out of the bullpen in whatever capacity was needed. Experience taught me that no club used the same five starters the entire season and I would just have to be patient. While warming up for a game, I noticed the movement my four-seam fastball had when I released the ball on the inside of my middle finger. Instead of tailing movement when released from the outside of the finger, the pitch had a cutting action, running inside on right-handed batters. Bullpen coach, Mark Cresse, was impressed with the control and command of the pitch and suggested using it in the game. I did just that. The cutter became the missing puzzle part to the resurgence of my career.

The velocity of the pitch was in the low to mid-nineties, but the command was precision-like. I could deliver a cutter to right-hand batters on the inside corner for strikes when everyone else was working the outside corner. Hitters were having a difficult time making the adjustment. With the new-found cutter leading my repertoire, I could mix other pitches when needed and produce a number of early-count outs. The results could not have been better. In eight relief appearances, I recorded three wins, three saves and a 1.40 ERA in 19 and 1/3 innings.

On May 16, Goltz had a bout with the flu and Lasorda kept his promise and gave me the start. I pitched 7 innings against the Pirates allowing four runs but was the winning pitcher. That was good enough to warrant another start against St. Louis five days later. Again I pitched seven innings allowing three runs in beating the Cardinals. I shut out Cincinnati five days later at Riverfront cementing my spot in the rotation.

By the time the dust settled at the end of the season, I threw a no-hitter against the Giants, was the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game, led the league with six shutouts and was runner-up in the Cy Young voting to Steve Carlton. Looking back on 1980, it was that stint in the bullpen where I cultivated and refined my new-found toy, the cutter, that turned around a faltering career.