Command Is Key For Black
"I've been working behind hitters, so right now I'm trying to pitch to contact and get more first and second pitch ground balls."
The results have been night and day when Black is able to get ahead of hitters and get into counts that allow him to use his secondary pitches. He leads the Tampa Yankees in strikeouts [79) and all starting pitchers in K/9 [10.1. Pitching coach Jeff Ware is well aware of what Black can do when he's able to dictate at-bats with first-pitch strikes.
"I truly believe all four of his pitches, including the fastball, are swing and miss pitches," Ware said about the kind of stuff Black possesses. "All four are already above-average Major League pitches.
"He's got such good stuff that sometimes he just tries to overpower guys instead of staying within himself," Ware added.
The 21-year-old right hander put in extra work in the offseason and Spring Training fine-tuning his secondary pitches to compliment his mid to upper 90's fastball. Oddly enough, a pitch that had been not existent for him in his first professional season - his changeup - is now his most consistent secondary offering.
"I really worked on the changeup this offseason and I'm throwing it a lot more," Black said. "It's been there all year and I'm really happy about it."
Black's curveball and slider, although they are plus pitches, are still a work in progress.
"The curveball has been kind of on and off all season long," Black said prior to Sunday's start. "And the slider has disappeared for me the last couple of starts."
Black's slider has been particular frustrating to the young right-hander of late.
"We tried to change the slider to more of a cutter earlier in the season and it wasn't working out. Now we're trying to get it back to the point where I am able to get more depth on it," Black admitted.
Coach Ware still sees the potential in Black's breaking pitches despite the inconsistency of late.
"The curveball and slider are inconsistent at times but occasionally they are quality," Ware said. "When he throws them for strikes he gets a lot of swings and misses with them.
"All his secondary offerings have improved, now just working ahead in counts and actually getting to use those secondary pitches is the biggest thing."
Another goal for Black this offseason in addition to improving his secondary offerings was the ability to maintain his velocity deep into games. He's not a big guy, but does a great job of getting everything he can out of his 5-foot-11, 175 pound frame.
He was blowing up radar guns in the high 90's in his early innings last season, but had the tendency to falter towards the low 90's and high 80's with his fastball the longer his outing became.
The hard work seems to be paying off in that regard. Maintaining his velocity deep into games hasn't been much of a concern for Black in 2013.
"I've been sitting 92-95 all year, even in the fifth and sixth innings of games," Black said. "The velocity has even been up to 96-97 deep into games and I'm really excited about that."
Coach Ware is equally as excited about the consistent velocity Black has been able to bring this year.
"Now he's started throwing even harder than he was earlier in the game," Ware said. "He's got such good life on that fastball and there are just so few good swings on those pitches."
Now it's just a matter of putting it all together. Black has the stuff. That's evident by the weak .226 opponent batting average against him this season. If Black can improve his command, and find a way to get all four of his pitches working consistently, the sky is the limit.
"If he starts to locate those four pitches down in the zone everything is going to work out for him," Ware concluded.
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