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Changeup makes Lamet even more prolific

Padres rookie has had big impact in first two big league outings
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- From the moment he began his rapid ascent through all three levels of the Padres' Minor League system last season, Dinelson Lamet was destined for a career in the big leagues. Few people in baseball doubted that much.

But if he wanted to make an impact as a starter in the Majors, something needed to change. More specifically, his changeup needed to change.

SAN DIEGO -- From the moment he began his rapid ascent through all three levels of the Padres' Minor League system last season, Dinelson Lamet was destined for a career in the big leagues. Few people in baseball doubted that much.

But if he wanted to make an impact as a starter in the Majors, something needed to change. More specifically, his changeup needed to change.

"He's a guy that quite easily could've gotten by in the bullpen with his fastball and slider, without question," Padres manager Andy Green said. "There's more than enough there. But If we're talking about starting and turning lineups over a third time, that third pitch was going to be necessary."

Through two Major League starts since his callup last month, Lamet is off to one of the most dominant starts ever by a Padres pitcher. He tied a 40-year-old franchise record by striking out 16 hitters in his first two starts, while allowing three runs over 10 innings.

Lamet, the Padres' No. 10 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, is slated to make his third start Tuesday night when the Padres face the D-backs. His changeup -- a pitch he's been using regularly for less than three months -- has played no small part in his early success.

"Knowing that I wanted to be a starter, having that third pitch was going to be really beneficial," Lamet said through a team interpreter. "... I've always had a good changeup. That hasn't been an issue. There was just a period where I wasn't confident. I was scared, in a certain sense, to throw it. Now, I have a lot more confidence. That's the biggest difference, more than the pitch changing itself."

Austin Hedges, who caught Lamet after his promotion to Triple-A El Paso, couldn't recall catching his changeup at all last season. When he first caught the pitch in a bullpen session last month, Hedges was taken aback by its movement.

Lamet didn't begin honing the pitch and throwing it regularly until he was sent to Minor League camp in March. He grips it as a circle change, deep at the top of his palm. And he releases it much like his fastball, giving the pitch an average velocity of 90.2 mph, according to Statcast™. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 30 changeups this year, no one has thrown the pitch harder.

"You talk about Spring Training as a space, as a place to work on things where the numbers don't matter," Lamet said. "I really approached it that way and thought, 'I'm going to throw my changeup and see what happens,' and I started to get a lot of confidence with it."

"Confidence" is an understatement. In his first career start, Lamet threw the pitch 19 times. He went to his changeup to strike out a red-hot Michael Conforto in the game's biggest moment.

Video: SD@NYM: Lamet fans eight, wins Major League debut

Opponents are 1-for-5 against the change, with six swings and misses in 31 pitches. He's thrown it multiple times to hitters like Conforto, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

In essence, it took Lamet all of three months to develop a Major League-caliber out pitch.

"That's not too surprising because of his arm," Hedges said. "When you have a live arm like that, the ball can do weird things."

Lamet's decision to hone his changeup could pay long-term dividends for both him and the Padres. For now, it's earned him a spot in the Padres' rotation, and he's making the most of it.

"He could've been good with just fastball-slider," Hedges said. "The changeup could make him very, very special."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Dinelson Lamet