Sometimes finding the key to being successful in professional baseball can be complicated. But other times, it can be exceedingly straight-forward. For A.J. Huttenlocker, the key couldn't be more simple.
"Just throw strikes," the Stockton left-handed reliever said.
Thus far, that approach has served the 2009 45th-round pick well. He has been one of the Ports' top relievers this season. In 67.2 innings, he sports a sparkling 1.86 ERA. The Washington native has struck-out 59 while walking only 11.
The outstanding K:BB ratio is nothing new for Huttenlocker. During his pro debut season in 2009, he struck-out 45 while walking only four in 36.1 innings for the A's Rookie League team and the Low-A Kane County Cougars. Last year, he posted a 54:14 K:BB ratio in 54 innings for Kane County and Stockton.
Huttenlocker's ability to locate his pitches has helped him succeed in a tough environment for pitchers in the California League despite not possessing a blazing fastball. This season he has allowed only three homeruns and has kept the ball on the ground by concentrating on pitching down in the strike-zone.
Huttenlocker's best pitch is his curveball, which he feels he can throw in any count.
"I can always go to my curveball, for sure. Whenever I need a strike, I can go to that pitch definitely," he said.
Huttenlocker also utilizes a deceptive delivery to get a leg up on his opponents. Despite being 6'3'', Huttenlocker doesn't employ an over-the-top delivery. Instead he slings the ball at a three-quarters angle. Huttenlocker says the lower release point is something that evolved naturally over time.
"I think I was a little bit higher when I was younger, but it naturally it went down a little bit lower and a little bit lower," Huttenlocker said.
"It gives me some additional movement on my fastball and on my change-up, and a little deception as well."
One pitch the A's insist every pitcher in their system has in their arsenal is a change-up. Huttenlocker entered this season with a goal of improving his change-up, something that he says he has accomplished. Having achieved that goal, Huttenlocker is going to focus this off-season on strength training in hopes of gaining weight and some additional velocity on his fastball.
Before Huttenlocker can focus on off-season goals, he and his Stockton teammates have the playoffs in their cross-hairs. Despite establishing a career-high for innings pitched this season, he is insists he isn't feeling the effects of a long season.
"I'm going strong. I feel good. I'm ready," he said.