So he instead went to Bellevue Community College in Washington, going 8-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 57 innings. The Cardinals signed him the following May as a draft-and-follow and gave the native of Washington a $1.475 million signing bonus.
Hawksworth found almost immediate success, finishing at High Class A Palm Beach by the end of his first full pro season. Lofty expectations were placed on the right-hander going into 2004 as Baseball America named him the top prospect in the Cardinals' system. The problem was Blake could not stay healthy enough to fulfill those expectations. Hawksworth only pitched 25 innings in 2004 and 2005 combined.
In 2006, he came back completely healthy and went 11-4, 2.92 with 121 strikeouts to 50 walks in 163 innings overall. The 25-year-old was named the organization's Pitcher of the Year as well as earning the same honor from The Birdhouse.
Making his Triple-A debut last season, Blake really struggled, going 4-13 with an ERA over five. More alarming is his 24 home runs allowed in only 129 innings.
During the last series of 2007, I had a chance to sit down with "Hawks" and he seemed to have learned from his abysmal Triple-A debut. He said that the time: "Once I was able to go out and compete and keep it simple; that was the key. Once I locked into that, the results followed… My last four starts, I got back in attack mode. I felt my stuff got a lot better. My strikeouts went up. I found that rhythm I had been searching for. So, I am going to lock that in mentally. What that felt like in the last four."
Going into the 2008 season, Hawksworth was rated as the number 23 prospect by The Birdhouse. (For the record, I rated him at number 33 but who's counting?) Unfortunately, that positive outlook has not helped so far in 2008. In five starts, he is 0-3 with an 8.25 ERA. Over 24 innings, Hawksworth has allowed 30 hits including four home runs and 12 free passes. Of note, he does have 25 strikeouts, so the talent is still there.
So what's going on?
Watching Hawksworth this season, though admittedly in limited action, it seems when things don't go smoothly, he gets frazzled and things get worse in a hurry. In 24 innings, he has allowed one run only once, meaning he has had a hard time controlling the damage. But he has allowed innings of two runs and three runs in an inning three times. Hawksworth has given up four runs in an inning twice and seven runs once.
So first, it seems he needs to relax. He needs to trust his stuff and start limiting the damage.
Throw your Changeup
Hawksworth has an above-average changeup that has always been one of the best in the system. It is a major league out pitch that to he has seemed to abandon. In the games I have watched, batters still swing and miss. Plus, he doesn't have the velocity that he once had, so a good change can make one's fastball look all the faster.
Without his changeup, Johan Santana would be just another pitcher. Now, I am not comparing the two's changeups, but why not get more use out of your best pitch?
Drop the Slider
When he gets on top of his curveball, it is a very effective pitch. But when he seems to get stuck in between his slider and curveball, it can flatten out and hang. I would suggest he concentrate on only one, the curveball, so as not to get caught.
If you are struggling, simplify things.
Keep the Ball Down
When watching Hawksworth, he is effective when down in the zone. But when you reach Triple-A, pitchers don't throw the ball by hitters very often. So when you don't have mid-nineties velocity, the ball thrown up in the zone usually will get tattooed. This has been the case in Blake's starts.
One of the basics of pitching: keep the ball down and a pitcher will be more effective.
Hawksworth has average arm speed and may be able to add some by velocity with a little better use of his lower body. In the wind up, his front hip seems to open up too early causing him to have to use his arm more and taking away from his drive leg. Also, when he is in the stretch, he is getting minimal push from his back leg as he is going to the plate.
Once again, I have only been able to watch Hawksworth in a few starts. But I just am not quite ready to give up on him quite yet. I think with some confidence and a few mechanical adjustments, he could regain his effectiveness.
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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