Jordan Norberto enjoyed by far his best outing of the season Monday by tossing four innings of two-hit ball, fanning four batters and walking two, leading to just one run allowed: a solo shot that just made it over the shortest part of Elfstrom stadium. I asked his catcher, Konrad Schmidt, about what changes Norberto made between his unsuccessful outings and this solid performance.
"He looked a lot different, he was real aggressive, attacked the zone, pitched down," praised Schmidt. "That's the key to pitching well. It was really impressive."
When Norberto had a rhythm going and was working quickly, he indeed pounded the strike zone and got some quick outs. But he also struggled with his command at times, running up a lot of full counts and throwing a few balls nowhere near the strike zone.
"He's been struggling with the ball up a little bit, but he competed, and kept us right there in the ballgame," continued Schmidt. "The difference I saw today is that he was determined: determined to pitch well."
That corresponds with what South Bend manager Mark Haley told me before the game - that Norberto seemed a little complacent in his first two starts of the year. Often times, players who repeat a level think that they're in for a cakewalk, he told us. He also mentioned that Norberto's velocity had been down about five miles per hour from last year. I asked Schmidt whether Norberto was popping it again.
"I wouldn't say he was blowing it - he blew it by a few batters, as you saw," decided Schmidt. "It was firm, I'll tell you that much."
Chad Beck's three scoreless innings of relief were even more impressive than Norberto's start was. Beck allowed just one hit and nothing else over those three frames.
"Beck's been pitching real well lately," confirmed Schmidt. "He had a great outing in Quad Cities (he struck out seven batters). He didn't even have his best stuff today, but he competed. His slider was a little sloppy, but he got outs with it and pitched with what he had tonight."
William Spottiswood, who went 10-for-10 in save opportunities last year at Yakima, didn't fare so well in the 8th. He loaded the bases with nobody out, then threw a pitch well wide of the plate, but Schmidt was able to knock it down enough and pounce on it to prevent the runners from advancing.
"I was fortunate to get just a piece of my glove on it to slow it down a little bit and keep it from rolling to the backstop," said Schmidt. "That's something we've been working a lot on in spring training."
Acting manager Francisco Morales let Spottiswood work out of his mess in the 8th, but not before the 25th-round pick let three runs in. With a precarious one-run lead heading into the ninth, Morales then turned to Daniel Fournier, who had allowed 6 runs (5 earned), 9 hits, and 6 walks while striking out only two batters over 8.2 innings up to that point. I asked Schmidt whether he was surprised by the decision to bring in Fournier.
"I wouldn't say it was a surprise, since he's been so solid for us coming out of the bullpen. Spotty's struggling a little bit - we've all struggled - and it just didn't work out for him tonight and Fournier came in and just picked him up."
Schmidt contributed a hit on offense Monday - a grounder sprayed past the Cougars' first baseman - after struggling to an 0-for-5 mark in Sunday's win. I asked him whether he felt that he was starting to come around on offense.
"I'm not quite there yet," he admitted. "I'm not seeing pitches well; swinging at a lot of bad pitches right now. But I hit a couple of balls hard today. I'm just glad I could call a decent game today to get us a win."
"I think the way I call a game is what I take most pride in," he continued. "When I'm struggling at the plate hitting, I can always help the team out by calling a good game."
Of course, calling a good game is like cooking a good meal; everyone has their own opinion on how to do it right. I asked Schmidt whether he preferred to concentrate on his pitcher's strengths or capitalize on a hitter's weaknesses when calling a game.
"There's a fine line between that," hedged Schmidt. "If there's an immediate pitcher's strength - if you've got a guy coming up who's throwing mid-90s - you've got to stick with that. Like a [Jarrod] Parker - it's pretty easy to call a game for him; just throw a lot of fastballs. If there's something really blatant in a hitter, then yeah, you've got to go right after it and get him out. For instance, Fournier with the leadoff hitter, [threw] three curveballs in a row; I wasn't messing around with it at all. Curveballs got him out."
So for two straight games, Konrad Schmidt has found the correct balance in his pitch selection philosophies. If he can keep that up, the South Bend Silver Hawks could be well on their way to a winning streak rivaling the ten straight victories of the Cougars that was snapped Monday night.
Send questions or comments for Keith Glab to email@example.com
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