Mariano Rivera

New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera is an ace when it comes to shattering bats and baffling batters. (John Minchillo / Associated Press / July 28, 2013)

Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford uses just any old bat when he faces Mariano Rivera. The more rickety and age-worn, the better.

He knows there's a good chance his bat — and his at-bat — will be doomed by what many consider the most devastating pitch in baseball.

Rivera's cut fastball, or cutter, is often the only pitch hitters see when facing the New York Yankees closer. It's a pitch that he throws almost exclusively, its late movement as it approaches the plate shattering bats and hitters' hearts alike.

Why waste good wood on that?

"I don't use the same bat that I've been playing good with because chances are real high" it's going to get broken, Crawford said with a chuckle. "So I just take an old, cheap bat that I don't really care about and try to stay as short as possible" with the swing.

Dodgers hitters will face long odds if Rivera pitches in a two-game interleague series starting Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, which could mark the last of his handful of appearances at the storied ballpark. Even in the final season of a 19-year career in which his 641 saves are a record, Rivera, 43, has been as unhittable as he was more than a decade ago when he helped the Yankees win four World Series titles in a span of five years.

His 1.64 earned-run average is his lowest in five years, and his 33 saves rank second in the American League behind Baltimore closer Jim Johnson's 35.

Rivera can largely thank the pitch that has sustained his dominance as the game's top reliever since he became a full-time closer in 1997. His cutter, which travels in the low 90-mph range, generally breaks inside on left-handed hitters and outside to right-handed ones, though he can vary the movement depending on how much pressure he uses when he grips the ball.

"Definitely it's unusual," Rivera said of his success with the cutter. "Hitters know what's coming and still they can't put a good [swing] on the ball. Thank God for that."

All 16 pitches Rivera threw in the All-Star game earlier this month were cutters. No surprise there. Rivera rarely uses the four-seam fastball and sinker that complete his repertoire.

Eighty-nine percent of the pitches Rivera has thrown since the start of the 2007 season have been cutters, according to the website Of the 2,614 pitches Rivera has thrown to left-handed hitters in that span, 2,582 — or 98.8% — have been cutters.

"He throws his cutter more than [Tim] Wakefield used to throw his knuckleball," Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau said. "I mean, that's crazy to think about, a pitcher who's been this successful mastering one pitch. You know it's going to break and I think it always seems like it breaks more and later than you anticipate.

"You can get frustrated because you go up there saying, 'I'm not going to swing at anything in,' and you end up breaking a bat. It's one of those tough at-bats that you come back shaking your head and then you remind yourself that the guy's going to be in the Hall of Fame for a reason."

Rivera's cutter closely resembles his four-seam fastball until the pitch veers sharply in the final moments before reaching the plate.

"Even when you're swinging," Angels utlityman Brad Hawpe said, "you still have no clue" which pitch it is.

Rivera has been particularly tough on left-handed hitters such as Hawpe, holding them to a .209 batting average in his career. Not that right-handers have fared much better, hitting only .215.

"With me or [other] left-handed hitters, the cutter is going away from your barrel into your body," Hawpe said. "It's going into your hands, where you have less of a chance of getting the barrel to it. So I don't really know what the approach is to do it, other than just swing and pray it goes where nobody's standing."

That tactic actually worked for Hawpe in June, when he blooped a single to left field off Rivera as part of a ninth-inning rally at Angel Stadium. The next batter, Peter Bourjos, stepped to the plate with runners on first and third and two out, the Angels trailing, 6-4.

"He threw the first pitch and I took it and it felt like it started at me and I thought it was a ball outside but it caught the corner, so I'm like, 'Oh, God, this is nasty,'" Bourjos recalled. "So I got up on top of the plate and just tried to battle."

Bourjos fouled off two cutters before hitting a run-scoring blooper into left-center field on the fourth cutter of the at-bat. After walking Mike Trout to load the bases, the unflappable Rivera struck out Albert Pujols on three pitches to end the game.