Kirkman searching for consistency

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Left-hander Michael Kirkman is having a wildly inconsistent season at Tripe-A Round Rock, leading to a 5.57 ERA in 51.2 innings. After walking 10 batters in four innings during his previous two appearances, Kirkman pounded the zone and fanned five in two frames on Friday. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the hurler after the outing.

Michael Kirkman's 2011 campaign hasn't been what he hoped for coming off a breakout 2010 season. Last year, Kirkman earned Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year honors after posting a 3.09 earned-run average with 130 strikeouts in 131 innings. He earned a late-season call-up to the majors and allowed only three runs in 16.1 innings.

In fact, Kirkman's late-season performance with the Rangers last season was so strong that he earned a spot on the club's ALCS and World Series rosters. He made three total appearances against the Yankees and Giants, allowing one run in 2.2 innings.

The left-hander entered spring training this year competing for the Rangers' number five starter spot on the opening day roster. The back-of-the-rotation jobs eventually went to Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando. Kirkman began the regular season in Triple-A––as a starting pitcher.

But Kirkman fell into a mechanical funk late in the spring, and that carried over in Round Rock. During August, he was throwing strikes but leaving his fastball up in the zone and over the plate. The result was a 9.87 ERA with 35 hits allowed in 17.1 innings.

After a move to the bullpen in May, Kirkman got back on the right track and returned to his dominant ways––19.2 ip, 18 h, 3 er, 8 bb, 19 k. The strong performance in May earned him another call-up to the majors.

The 24-year-old spent just over a month in Arlington and yielded 14 earned runs on 18 hits in 21.2 innings, walking 11 and striking out 17. After being optioned to the minors, he was battered for six runs on seven hits over 1.2 innings in his first outing back with Round Rock.

Since that game on July 5, Kirkman has consistently missed bats but shown inconsistent control and mechanics, to say the least.

Express pitching coach Terry Clark recently discussed Kirkman's battle with mechanics this season in this recent interview.

As the hurler explains in the following interview, he recently began throwing side sessions once a week––even as a reliever––in order to try and keep his mechanics in check.

Entering Friday's contest, Kirkman had issued 10 walks in four innings during his previous two outings, throwing only 55 of his 112 pitches for strikes. But the good Kirkman showed up on Friday against Memphis.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound southpaw flashed perhaps his smoothest mechanics this season. The result was 19 strikes out of 24 pitches in two scoreless innings. Kirkman pounded the lower half of the strike zone with a 91-94 mph fastball (he has reached 96 mph at times this season) and showed a devastatingly sharp, late-breaking 80-83 mph slider.

Kirkman fanned the side in the eighth inning––all on sliders. He punched out five total during the two innings and even finished the game with a strikeout on his mid-80s split-changeup, which he was also able to throw for strikes on Friday.

At this point, only time will tell if Kirkman is able to build on Friday's outing and gain some consistency down the stretch drive. The Rangers are searching for another reliable lefty reliever in the majors, and Kirkman certainly has the stuff to be that guy––as he was late last season.

Kirkman's season has been maddeningly frustrating to both himself and the Rangers, without a doubt. He showed the promise with multiple plus pitches and command on Friday, but the key will be repeating it in multiple outings.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Kirkman after his two-inning, five-strikeout performance against the Redbirds.

Jason Cole: To start it off, just tell me about your outing tonight. You had five strikeouts in two scoreless innings.

Michael Kirkman: Yeah. I just went out there and did what me and Terry Clark have been talking about. I wasn't overthrowing or stomping down––I was staying smooth all the way through my delivery. The fastball was there for a strike, and when that happens, everything else is there.

Cole: You've been in and out of a mechanical funk for most of the season, it seems like. How do you end up falling into bad habits like that?

Kirkman: It's mentality––not gaining momentum and then it kind of wears on you.

Cole: You obviously started most of last season. Is it a little more difficult to stay consistent mechanically when coming out of the bullpen?

Kirkman: Yeah, because you're not throwing sides. You're pitching every one, two, three, or four days. You never know when you're going to get in there, so it's hard to throw a side. But now, I'm getting into a rhythm where I'm going to throw a side once a week––whether it be five pitches or 20 maximum. I just want to get a feel for what I'm trying to do.

Cole: Is there anything you feel needs to be done in order to build on this outing and stay right mechanically going forward?

Kirkman: Just do what me and TC have been working on with my last side and throwing program. Just staying smooth––that's all it is.

Cole: How did you feel about your slider tonight?

Kirkman: It was good. And my––I guess you could call it a split-change or whatever. It was there, too. And that goes off my fastball being thrown for strikes.

Cole: I know the changeup has been a big focus for you over the last couple seasons. How are you feeling about it this year?

Kirkman: It has been hit and miss, but lately it has been really good. Lately, I've been able to throw it for strikes and throw it for outs. It's a lot like my slider.

Cole: What are your thoughts on your season as a whole so far?

Kirkman: It has been up and down. Everybody can see that, between the numbers here and the numbers up in Arlington. But hopefully now I can stay on this track and start getting outs consistently and help the team in September.

Cole: After your struggles in the last couple outings, how big is an outing like this for your confidence?

Kirkman: Oh, it's huge. After those last two outings––I think I walked a ridiculous number like 10 in four innings or something. That's unacceptable. And that's why I worked hard to get to where I was tonight. Hopefully I will keep working harder to finish that throughout the season.

Cole: Did you feel the outing was the smoothest you've been mechanically this year? Or have there been times where it was that good?

Kirkman: There have been times, but tonight definitely felt the best.

Cole: I noticed you were going out of the stretch the entire time. Have you been doing that all season here?

Kirkman: In Cleveland––Mike Maddux asked me to go out of the stretch for my third inning. And I've been doing it ever since.

Cole: What was the reasoning behind doing that?

Kirkman: I walked the first guy in the first two innings (laughs). But the first pitch of my third inning out there––tater.

Cole: You've clearly stuck with it. Do you feel a difference between the stretch and windup?

Kirkman: No. It's a lot less moving parts from the stretch, too.

Cole: So I guess it's basically less of an opportunity for something to go wrong mechanically?

Kirkman: Yeah, exactly.

Cole: As you look forward to the remainder of your season, what would you like to improve upon? What do you want to do?

Kirkman: Exactly what I did tonight. I don't care about strikeouts or whatever. I just want good, solid, quality pitches every time out. You're going to make a mistake every once in awhile, and that's going to happen. But I want quality the rest of the year.

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