In six seasons as a minor-league baseball player, Lincoln Saltdogs pitcher Marquis Fleming has become quite a movie buff.
To help pass the time on those frequent long bus rides, Fleming brings along a 3-terabyte hard drive with more than 2,600 movies. One of his favorites is “Inception,” the Leonardo DiCaprio mind-bender that is pretty much all about deception.
So is Fleming’s circle change. He makes it look like his 90-plus fastball and hitters are so out in front they can look silly swinging the bat. That pitch is a big reason why Fleming is the No. 1 starter for the Saltdogs and was selected for the American Association All-Star Game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on July 29.
“A change-up is probably the hardest pitch to throw in baseball,” Saltdogs pitching coach Dan Reichert said. “Marquis has a really good change-up, and he’s never in a predicable pitch sequence. At 3-and-0, the hitter is usually thinking 100 percent fastball. There are times Marquis will throw a 3-0 change-up. He has command and confidence of every single pitch in his arsenal.”
Fleming was introduced to the circle change by his high school pitching coach, Steve Yamasaki.
“He’d coached some minor-league players and they showed me how to throw the circle change when I was a freshman,” Fleming said. “The pitch just came naturally. I threw it a couple times and they were like, ‘Yeah, throw it like that.’ Then my college coach at Cal State-Stanislaus, Kenny Leonesio, really taught me how to pitch with it.”
Fleming was selected in the 24th round of the MLB Draft by Tampa Bay in 2008. He’s reached as high as Triple-A, spending parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the Durham Bulls. Coming into 2014, he had 474 strikeouts in 423 1/3 innings pitched in his minor-league career.
This season, Fleming is 6-3 in 12 starts with a 3.00 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 75 innings. He went 2-1 on the Saltdogs' recent road trip and has won two in a row. His circle change, which comes off the side of his fingers and has a hard sinking action, has been his strongest weapon.
“I think I have really good control of my change-up, so I can throw it for a strike at any count,” Fleming said. “I can throw it with full arm motion so it looks like a fastball. That deception helps. I get good movement on it, too, so to the hitter it looks like a fastball coming out of my hand.”
Fleming’s next scheduled start is Wednesday against Amarillo. The Saltdogs opened a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Sox with a 5-2 victory.
“When I get here in the afternoon and I put the game ball in his locker, I know we’ve got a good chance today because he’s throwing,” Reichert said. “He’s confident and he throws strikes. He’s always in the zone.”
Fleming said he’s excited to spend a couple of days in Canada at the all-star game next week.
“In professional baseball, days off are probably the No. 1 most-cherished thing among all players,” he said, “but I’m honored to go to the all-star game. It’s definitely worth missing those two off-days to go up there, enjoy the festivities and play with the great players that are in this league.”