Padilla's 'Soap Bubble' baffling hitters

Padilla's 'Soap Bubble' baffling hitters

PHILADELPHIA -- It looks like it belongs in a beer league, something a slow-pitch softball slugger would drool over, but their Major League counterparts can't quite figure it out.

Vicente Padilla calls it a slow curveball. Vin Scully calls it the "Soap Bubble." If you're old school, "Eephus" comes to mind.

It's barely a blip on the sophisticated stadium radar guns, this high-arcing, slo-mo breaking ball of Padilla's. But whatever-you-call-it has coincided with yet another comeback in his unpredictable career. While observers might find it amusing, it's a serious weapon for Padilla.

Going into Tuesday night's start in Philadelphia, the former Phillies pitcher is duplicating the roll that helped the Dodgers down the stretch after his acquisition a year ago. After missing two months with an inflamed radial nerve in his forearm, Padilla has a 1.32 ERA since June 25, second lowest in MLB.

And the "Soap Bubble," which generally clocks in in the mid-50-mph range, has advanced from a gimmicky curiosity to a legitimate secondary pitch that complements Padilla's 94-mph fastball.

"It's slower than slow," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who remembers Pedro Borbon throwing a pitch just like it.

Scully said he named it the "Soap Bubble" as soon as Padilla started throwing it.

"It just reminded me -- you know the children's game where they have the little wire, and you dip it in the soapy water and you hold it up and you blow and this little bubble comes out?" said Scully. "And I was just looking at this, and I thought, 'God, it reminds me of a bubble,' and it just came out.

"We've never had any [Dodgers pitcher] throw that kind of a pitch. The guy who had the real one -- they call it the Eephus pitch -- that was a fellow named Rip Sewell, and that pitch was very high. And he would throw it once in a while and he threw it once to Ted Williams, and Williams hit it into orbit. But no, I never used [the term before] because we never had anybody with that pitch."

Padilla said he started throwing the pitch about three years ago, while with the Rangers.

"I used to throw submarine style, but it was 74, 75 [mph]," Padilla said. "Over the top, right now, I have more rotation, and it's slower. I just need to make sure it goes straight down and not across, and that's what's happening with better rotation. I have a lot of confidence I can throw it for strikes."

Padilla said deception is a key to pitching effectively, and the "Soap Bubble" helps him throw off hitters.

"Not many pitchers throw a pitch that slow, so it's hard for the hitters, because they usually don't see pitches like that," Padilla said. "It's like a knuckleball -- the hitters aren't used to it. Some hitters might know it's coming, but I try to confuse them as much as possible when I throw it."

No argument from the opposition.

"I can see where it's hard to hit," San Diego catcher Yorvit Torrealba said, after Padilla shut out the Padres last week. "It keeps you off-balance."

"It's a funny little pitch," said Will Venable, Torrealba's teammate. "It might be different for other guys ... but I told myself I wasn't going to swing at it. I didn't know how consistently he threw it for strikes, so I wasn't going to swing at it. As soon as it came out of his hand, I was in auto-take mode."

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said that's exactly what Padilla is counting on.

"For the most part, it's been a fun pitch for him," said Honeycutt. "The majority of times, they take it, so it's kind of a free pitch for him. We tell him there are certain hitters you don't want to throw it to, but he reads hitters pretty well and he's going to do what he wants to do. He's just got the feel of it. He can really spin the ball. He uses it much more to lefties. At this level, they have to respect the fastball."

Honeycutt noted that Padilla has used the slow curve more frequently with less velocity and greater control since returning from his injury. Padilla averaged four "Soap Bubbles" per game before he was disabled, and is averaging nearly nine per game since.

Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus said the pitch shifts the workload from the pitcher to the hitter.

"In order to drive the ball, the hitter has to supply all the power to get it to the gap or over the outfielder's head," said Ausmus. "So if you can throw that pitch for a strike, you'll have a better percentage than other pitches. It's a difficult pitch to square up and drive."

According to the pitch tracker on MLB.com's Gameday, Padilla has thrown the pitch 101 times this year, getting 27 outs while allowing only two hits -- both home runs. There have been 32 called strikes, two swinging strikes, five fouls and 38 balls.

"It's the way he pitches," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He's got that rare ability to flip that curve up there with good arm speed. That's hard to do."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com associate reporter Evan Drellich contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.