Stoner Looks to Regain his Form

The 22-year-old Savannah Sand Gnat has the most refined repertoire of all the pitchers in the lower levels of the farm system. Though he is off to a shaky start, he possesses the confidence and fortitude to right the ship. With April coming to a close, Stoner said sat down with Inside Pitch Magazine to wrap his performance in the season's first month.

After a strong 2006 in which he posted a 6-2 record, 2.15 ERA in 83 2/3 innings with Brooklyn, Tobi Stoner entered this season with a raised ceiling from observers and increased personal expectations. He returned to big league camp with his arsenal reloaded and ready to shine. He threw only 12 innings in game-action, but showed enough to catch the eyes of the coaching staff.

"I didn't throw a lot of innings in spring training, but I know I got the attention of the pitching coaches, which is a real good thing. I felt I did really well. (The coaches) didn't work on anything specifically with me, but getting my timing down was big. I needed to get my hands and arms in rhythm with the rest of body. I guessed they liked everything I was doing," he said.

It is no secret why the coaches were so impressed with Stoner. His fastball and curveball both have been ranked in the top-10 by this publication and outside scouts. Yet despite the accolades, his changeup is still a work in progress. He holds the ability to throw it for strikes, but still lacks the tools to spot it on the corners. In addition to his changeup, he attributes his early season struggles to a general lack of command in his full array of pitches.

"I can throw my changeup for a strike, but right now it's all about locating it, but location has been a problem for me in my starts. I can get my pitches to do what I want, so it's not a command problem, it's more of control. I want to be able to make the pitches do what I want and put them where I want to," he said.

It has not been all negative for him this season. Although he has accumulated 31 baserunners in his 16 1/3 innings pitched, his pitches have shown a tremendous amount of action. His fastball-changeup combination is his most efficient way of creating outs and keeping hitters off-balance. Meanwhile, his breaking pitches tumble through the strike zone with authority. His slider remains a touchy area for him as he learns to throw it for strikes with consistency, but his curveball backs up what his slider lacks.

Stoner's problems have not been mechanical, and while he needs to harness his control, he admits that he hasn't quite felt like himself out on the mound.

"It hasn't been (a physical problem), it's been comfort. I've had four starts but I've felt comfortable, like everything was there, for only one start. The other times things just seemed to get to me whether it was the feeling of the mound, the height of the mound, my arm slot, whatever. Everyone in their careers hits a barrier and I think that's where I'm at right now and it's slowing me down. Usually I feel like I can do most anything on the mound. Right now, I think my timing is just off," Stoner explained.

He damages himself with his lack of control when hitters work deep into counts. Since he struggles to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters early, he finds himself battling hitters. He can throw his breaking balls for strikes, but he forces himself into situations where he throws them late in counts. In that scenario, instead of moving the ball off the plate every so slightly to get hitters to expand the strike zone, he is forced to throw his breaking balls over the plate. The hitters have taken advantage.

"I've been too confident about throwing my breaking balls in 2-2, 3-2 counts. I end up walking hitters or putting it where they can hit it. Getting control of those pitches and throwing them for strikes will allow me to not give into hitters and putting those balls where they can hit them," he said.

Many pitchers, young and old, always balance along a fine line of pitching and throwing. This is a problem which currently plagues Stoner. Typically, observers will proclaim that a pitcher, when struggling, resorts to throwing instead of pitching. Stoner, however, dictates the opposite. This mentality is what allows him to constantly stay aggressive.

"I think I'm trying to pitch too much instead of just throwing. I'm getting too much into it mentally. I just need to go right at hitters and make them prove to me that they can hit what I throw. I'm just thinking too much. Instead of just pitching to the situation, I'm thinking about different things about my mechanics or location. I just need to attack hitters," he said.

Between starts, he works hard in bullpen sessions on the fine points of his delivery. He dissects and irons out each detail. Once he regains that comfort level, his production should rebound to its anticipated levels. He does not suffer from one grand problem, but guards against the growth of all his minute issues into something greater.

"I'm working on my timing to make sure each part of my body is moving in sync. Right now, I'm just not pitching to my personal standards. When I'm out there in these rocky starts, I'm fighting hard. I'm going as hard as I can to make the hitters beat me. I'm bulldogging it as much as I can," he detailed.

It is during these tumultuous times that Stoner recalls the message the coaches left with him as he headed to Savannah at the close of spring.

"The let me know there are good things in store for me. They let it be known that wherever a guy ended up it's because of a purpose, a purpose that the organization has in store for all of us. They said that I shouldn't look into things too deep and that I need to just do my job and everything will be ok," he recalled.

For a pitcher with his natural ability and dynamics, that may have been the best advice of all.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories