Results tagged ‘ Rangers Minor Leaguers ’

Austin Pettibone Settles into Rotation Spot

Hickory Crawdads pitcher Austin Pettibone was a key component from the bullpen during the team’s drive to the first-half Northern Division title. The 24th -round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 out of UC Santa Barbara joined the Crawdads from extended spring on May 10. After a bumpy start to his Hickory career, he settled in to throw five-straight scoreless outings during which he allowed one hit and one walk with seven strikeouts in 9.1 innings.

However when pressed into service as a spot-starter in the first half, the results were less than stellar. Entering the current series against the Greenville Drive, Pettibone had a 2.76 ERA as a reliever. As a starter, the opposition had battered him for five runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings over two starts (one abbreviated due to a rain-suspended game).

But baseball is a game of opportunity and Pettibone took advantage of his Tuesday night when he filled Luis Ortiz’s rotation spot (due to a DL stint) against the Drive, the South Atlantic League’s best hitting and top-scoring club.

Austin Pettibone shut down the Greenville Drive on two hits over six innings on Tuesday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Austin Pettibone shut down the Greenville Drive on two hits over six innings on Tuesday (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

At first, it looked like the bubble would burst early when Greenville’s Mike Meyers tripled on the second pitch of the game. He scored on the fifth pitch, when a slider went to the backstop. The sixth pitch – another slider – was pulled into left by Michael Chavis.

That turned out to be the last hurrah for the Drive as the right-hander faced the minimum 18 hitters over the successive six innings and defeated Greenville 8-1.

Pettibone said that the wild pitch to score Meyers was almost a relief at the time.

“Once I had that wild pitch it was almost like time to restart and lock back in,” said Pettibone. “After that, it went the way it went.”

The way it went was Pettibone used a three-pitch mix (90-92 mph fastball, change and slider) to handcuff the Drive. Greenville put only one other runner on base – a walk in the third to Meyers that was erased on a double play.

Pettibone said the game plan coming in was to try to take advantage of a free-swinging lineup that is second in the SAL in strikeouts.

“We knew that they were an aggressive lineup,” Pettibone said. “So we were just keeping them off balance, throwing offspeeds for strikes early in the count and attacking late in it with the fastball.”

Of the 20 hitters he faced, seven started with an offspeed pitch – all for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 hitters.

A starter with the Gauchos in college, the Yorba Linda, Calif. native said the adjustment from the bullpen into the rotation has been mostly minimal. The biggest change is trying to economize the number of pitches to each hitter.

“I’d say just pitching off my fastball, which has a little sink on it,” said Pettibone when asked about his approach moving into the rotation. “So, just trusting that and pitching to contact more so than trying to get swings-and-misses later in games when I had to come in out of the pen. That was a good start for me to get swings early in the count and minimize pitches so I was able to go deeper by that.”

On Tuesday, Pettibone threw more than four pitches to just five hitters with no more than seven to anyone. It allowed him to give the Crawdads a chance to rest some arms in the bullpen after a tough series against Lakewood.

The six-inning stint surpassed a five-inning start he had last summer at Eugene when he three-hit the Emeralds in his third-career start. His manager Corey Ragsdale was presently surprised in the longevity of the start, especially given that his longest outing of 2015 had been three innings.

“Just for the fact that he hadn’t been stretched out,” said Ragsdale. “When he has that many innings that went that quickly, we decided to go ahead and let him try it and see if he could do it. He had a quick sixth again.”

His final pitch of the night was a high-and-in fastball that Chavis swung through to end the sixth.

Pettibone said, “The second strike was a fastball in and he fouled it off his foot. Jose (catcher Jose Trevino) called it again and I trusted it. I just tried to get it in there and I did and he ended up swinging through it.”

Role Playing: An Interview with John Fasola

Hickory Crawdads reliever John Fasola is a broken-bat single away from being a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities this season. Yet the native of Hudson, Ohio doesn’t consider himself a closer. Of course, currently sitting at Low-A ball, there is certainly a long way to go before his role is ultimately determined.

On numbers alone at college, Fasola might’ve had a point. He worked mostly in middle relief in his lone season at Kent State, where he went 2-2 with three saves and a 4.68 ERA. He posted a 28:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio which led the Texas Rangers to make him the 31st-round pick in 2014.

Fasola went to short-season Spokane and was among several pitchers that closed out games for the Indians. He posted a team high of five saves and a 2.05 ERA. He also struck out 40 and walked five in 26.1 innings.

Bringing a 92-94 mph sinking fastball, occasionally touching up to 96 to go with a slider, at least at this point, Fasola has brought to the table the idea of becoming a crucial bullpen piece, – if not a closer – in the future.

This season, he has worked on adding a changeup to his arsenal. With the addition of the pitch, Fasola may yet be used in a variety of roles in the future.

In recent weeks, Fasola’s workload has increased. During his last four outings, he has thrown at least two innings each time with three or more innings twice. On June 7 at Lakewood, Fasola recorded a ten-out save that gave the Crawdads a key game in their playoff hunt.

While the strikeouts continue to pile up (32 Ks, 3 BBs in 24.1 innings), he has also able to keep hitters on the ground Fasola currently has a 2.45 GO/AO ratio.

Fasola has 12 saves and a  0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Fasola has 12 saves and a 0.74 WHIP in 24.1 innings. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

In the following interview, Fasola talks about his progression this season in the bullpen, as well as his transition to the pro game.

Let me go through your season a little bit. You have 11 saves at this point (at the time of the interview on June 11). Were you a closer in college?

Fasola: For a little bit, yeah. I was more of a mid-relief setup man and then towards the end I took on a closer role when we made it to the playoffs and the post season. Then in Spokane, I wouldn’t say I was the closer, but I found myself in the back end of the games sometimes – not necessarily in save situations, but just late in the game, seven, eight, nine (innings).

I don’t know, it’s just something I happened to fall into. I didn’t really prepare to be a closer or anything like that. I wouldn’t even qualify myself as a closer. I’ve gone three innings my last two outings. So, whenever they need me to pitch, I’ll pitch.

I was going to ask you about that. I know the Rome situation (three innings for a win on May 31), it was a matter where the guys breaks his bat and gets a hit and the team was a little thin in the bullpen.Were you surprised to get the next one in Lakewood? That’s a ten-out save that stretched you out a bit, but that was a big pickup at the time for the team?

Fasola: I hadn’t thrown in a while. Going into that game, I was told that no matter what the score is today, you’re going to get your work in. At some point when seven days goes by, you know you’ve got to get out on the mound and see some hitters.

So, I was told that I was going in that day; so be ready after the fifth. I think it was the sixth inning, I came in with two outs and I got a three-pitch strikeout. Then I had a quick second inning and the next thing I knew, I was throwing in the ninth. I kept my pitch count down and I got a lot of ground balls and I was fortunate enough to close that game out for us.

How do you feel like you’ve developed this year? You mentioned that you don’t see yourself as the closer, but you’re probably the closest thing we’ve had as a closer in a while. At this level, you just don’t see that much- a closer. How has that developed for you?

Fasola: I think just throwing strikes. Getting to strike one gives you a lot of pitchability. That’s something this year that fortunately I’ve been able to do thus far. Getting to strike one it makes everything easier. You can pitch off your fastball; the hitter really can’t sit on anything. If you get to 0-1, you can throw something in the dirt. You can throw a chase pitch. It just gives you a lot more room to work with. So, this year, I’d say that’s the biggest thing that I’ve gotten better with, just getting the first pitch over the plate.

What sort of stuff did you bring to the pros and what have you developed since you’ve been here?

Fasola: I was a four-seam, slider guy all the way through high school and then in college. I closed a little but in high school, but I didn’t really pitch; I was a thrower. I got drafted and I just kind of threw everything as hard as I could. This year was the first time I started working on a changeup. That’s what I think I can attribute to me being able to go for three innings that I have the last two outings. Just being able to show something else that’s slower instead of the hitter sitting hard, hard, hard. But if you mix a changeup in it makes your fastball look harder, it makers your slider look sharper. It just gives you a lot more room to pitch in.

What are you looking for your changeup to do? Are you looking for it to go a different direction than your slider? What sort of changeup do you throw?

Fasola: That was the biggest thing for me going into spring training; I was mixing up all my grips. At instructs last year they told me I needed something soft to compliment my slider and fastball. I mainly just show it and try to throw it for strikes early on in the count and make them respect the fact that I have that pitch, where they’re not sitting on something hard. They have to respect that. I’ve actually thrown it for an off-speed pitch a couple of times to lefties, if I’m ahead in the count.

I read in the Rangers media guide that your dad was a professional pitcher for the Pirates organization. Has he talked with you about the pro game and passed on words of wisdom, or has he been hands off and letting you seek your own path?

Fasola: He was a catcher, so he knows a little bit about the pitching aspect, because he was a catcher. But his thing was hitting. So when I transitioned over to be a competitive pitcher, he kind of didn’t know that to do and said I can’t you anymore. But he helped me with just being a man and not just baseball stuff. He did his job for me growing up and has just let me find my way in pro ball and kind of let me take the reins.

Has he talked to you about the grind of the situation?

Fasola: He said: Full season, John, is going to be a grind. It’s a long season. You don’t got to blow it out every day. It’s a grind. You’ve just got to take it one day at a time. You can’t be looking in the future. It seems like a thousand day long season. You’ve just got to take it a day at a time and just be happy to be here.

As a pro now in the year since you were drafted, who have you talked to that has helped you make the most sense of doing this job?

Fasola: I think going into the draft – where I got my most advice – is my pitching coach from college, Mike Birkbeck (six year major league vet with the Brewers and Mets.) He was a pro player and kind of that whole season leading up to the draft he conducted our practices like professional practices. He’d give you stories, and give you little advice and tidbits. This offseason, I would go back and throw at his facility where he still coaches. He just gave me some tips where he’d say:  Do this. Throw this much. Take it easy today – and that type of stuff. Mike Birkbeck has helped me a lot.

What does a successful season look like for you?

Fasola: Just getting to the playoffs. Clinching the first half so we can get to the playoffs and we can get a ring for the Crawdads.

When you get a call to the major leagues, who is that going to mean the most to?

Fasola: My dad. My mom and dad, probably more my dad, because he was a professional baseball player.

What do you think he’ll do?

Fasola: I don’t know. I think he’ll probably shed a tear and then be on the next flight. I’m going to fly him and my mom out and my sisters out, that’s for sure.

Learning to Provide Relief: An Interview with Adam Parks

Numbers don’t always tell the story of what a pitcher can do in the long term. When looking solely at the numbers of current Crawdads relief pitcher Adam Parks in college, one would think a pro career for him would be a stretch.

Named an all-state performer in 2010 and 2011, the native of Easton, Md. was a member of St. Michaels High’s state title team during three of his four prep seasons. Two summers ago, Parks threw a seven-inning perfect game while with Charles Town (WV) of the collegiate Valley League.

However, his college career on paper at Liberty (VA) University was somewhat underwhelming.  He posted an 8.33 ERA in 27 innings with 20 strikeouts and 19 walks combined during his redshirt-freshman and sophomore years. That came after a year away from the mound due to “Tommy John” surgery.

He offers a 92-94 mph fastball, but it’s his wipeout slider that caught the attention of Rangers amateur scout Jonathan George, who convinced the club to draft Parks in the 33rd round last June.

So far in the successive 12 months since his selection, Parks has rewarded the Rangers’ interest in him. Last summer at short-season Spokane, he allowed just six earned runs in 25.1 innings (2.13 ERA) with 31 Ks and only five walks over 18 relief outings.

This year, he’s been one of the Crawdads most reliable “bridge” relievers, putting up a 2.93 ERA (10 earned runs in 30.2 inning) as a reliever with 44 Ks and eight walks. In his last relief outing on May 26, (he made his first pro start on Saturday, May 30) Parks struck out seven in 3.2 innings to defeat Delmarva. It was the seventh time in 11 relief outings that Parks has fanned at least five in three or more innings.

Reliever Adam Parks delivers a pitch in a game against Delmarva on May 26 (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Reliever Adam Parks delivers a pitch in a game against Delmarva on May 26 (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

I talked with Parks after the relief outing against Delmarva about his season so far, the adjustment to the bullpen, and the development of new pitches to his arsenal.

 

From what I’ve seen this season number wise, you’ve been a big strikeout guy. Is that what you’ve been known for?

Parks: Last year in Spokane, I always seemed to get a strikeout an inning. Being with the Rangers, they’ve really helped me develop my fastball command and my slider. Now, it’s been adding a changeup and now a curveball, so it’s easier to set up hitters. As you can see, I usually put people away with my slider or a located fastball.

What’s been the key to developing those pitches that you’ve had, as well as the new ones you’re working on?

Parks: In Spokane, I worked with my pitching coach a lot in standing tall and working on different pitching mechanics. Especially here, when I got to Hickory, Oscar’s (pitching coach Oscan Marin) been working with me with my direction, which has really helped me with my pitch location. It’s helped me with my slider and it’s helping me to locate my slider better to lefties and righties. The pitching staff of the Texas Rangers has been the best for me.

What was the biggest pitch that you had to develop this year to be able to step up to another level?

Parks: I had to get more consistent with my changeup and in the offseason I worked on a curveball, so I can have a four-pitch mix, instead of just a two-pitch. Last year in Spokane, I was a closer. Now, I’m more of a long relief, throwing multiple innings. So having four pitches instead of two is more beneficial. Plus having changeups, it’s key to pitching.

What type of change are you throwing?

Parks: I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s just a two-seam changeup. I just put my fingers on it and let it rip.

Long term, staying in the bullpen, is that where you think you’re career will go at this point?

Parks: I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. I enjoy the bullpen, so I will not be upset if I stay in the bullpen,

Do you think you have more of a mentality for that role rather than as a starter?

Parks: Yes and no. Last year in Spokane was my first full year in the bullpen and I learned to love it and I learned that mentality. But, I have had a routine and I like to have a routine. I love being in those tight situations and I love being called on. I would say yes and no.

At the end of the year, what does a successful year look like for you?

Parks: Just knowing that I got better every day, because I’m still developing as a pitcher every day. As long as I can tell that I got better. Numbers are great, ERA’s great and all this, but as long as I’m developing the way the Rangers want me to, I’d say that’s a successful year.

You had a big game on Tuesday, where you struck out seven in 3 2/3 innings during a tight ballgame. You had another game – the 17-inning game comes to mind – when you struck out a bunch of guys in a short span. Do you look more to the strikeout in tight situations?

Parks: If I get a hitter 0-2 or 1-2, I’m looking to strike him out. In tight games, the last thing you want to do is to give in, because one swing of the bat can dictate the game. I would say throwing my pitches with conviction, knowing what strengths are and knowing how I get outs.

When you come into a situation with runners in scoring position, you’ll do anything not to let those runs score, especially if it’s the starter’s runs. The last thing I want to do is to give up the previous pitcher’s runs. So, yeah, strikeouts can get you out of jams.

If there’s a runner and second and third and they hit the ball to second base, a run scores. So I would say you want to come and punch somebody out in those tight situations.

You use your slider for a strikeout, but do you have a go-to pitch for when you need a ground ball or trying to get a double play?

Honestly, I haven’t had many double plays in my career – maybe two or three in my entire career, which hasn’t a long career. I pitched all last year at Spokane and I don’t think I had a double play once.

I know if I need a strike I can go to my fastball. When I’m looking to put somebody away, I usually use a slider.