After two rough starts, Jake Stevens needed a good outing. He got just that Monday night in Columbus against the Catfish. The Rome Braves' left-hander allowed only one run on three hits in six innings, getting his second victory since being sent down from Myrtle Beach last month.
"Yeah I felt good," Stevens said after the game. "Tonight I was just throwing it, and if they hit it, they hit it. If they don't, they don't. It works out better that way sometimes."
That simplistic view may be best for Stevens, who is trying to get back on track after a tough season in 2005 in the Carolina League. He had dominated the Sally League the year before, posting a 2.27 ERA in 27 games. But last season Stevens slumped to a 4.93 ERA in his 28 starts. His control, which was excellent in Rome, left him in Myrtle Beach.
Then this spring the Braves sent him back to the Pelicans, hoping he'd achieve some success and jump up to AA Mississippi in midseason. Instead, Stevens' struggles continued. He was 1-6 in his first 13 games with a 6.41 ERA.
"I'd pitch away from contact instead of just going after them," Stevens admitted.
In his five games since joining Rome, Stevens has been up and down. His first two games were solid (1 earned run in 13.2 inning), but then struggled in his next two (12 earned runs in 10 innings). Now the outing Monday night gives him hope he's on track once again.
"I've been trying all year to get that curve ball over for more strikes, and tonight was probably the best I've had it for the whole season," Stevens said. "I was able to throw strikes in and out. The three times I've pitched well here I was able to locate my fastballs really well. That's what I hope I can take out of this. Hopefully I can just attack guys and get outs."
"It's the same thing, wherever you go. I didn't think there was much difference here to Myrtle Beach besides guys are a little older in Myrtle Beach, a little smarter. They don't swing as much at junk as they do here. Hopefully that'll help me here. I can get in the strike zone and make them chase pitches when I'm ahead. Just throw more strikes, get ahead of batters, and put the pressure on them."
The Braves hope some success in Rome will be just what Stevens needs to regain his confidence, which has certainly been rocked a bit with his struggles in Myrtle Beach. This is a pitcher that looked to be on the fast track after his outstanding 2004 season, so the Braves know he can be successful. Hopefully, his second stint in Rome will rekindle that fire he had there two years ago.
"I think anytime you do well, it's going to help your confidence," Stevens said. "You've got to pitcher there they give you the ball. If they want you to pitch in Rome, you pitch in Rome. If you pitch in Myrtle Beach, you pitch in Myrtle Beach. It‘s not going to be a big difference to me. I‘ve got hit here as hard as I was in Myrtle Beach, so I‘m not going at it with a mindset that I should mowed guys down. I‘ve still got to make my pitches and get outs wherever I‘m at."
And that's all the Braves want as well. If Stevens does that, there's a good chance he can get right back on track and perhaps make it to Double-A sometime next season.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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