Kiker developing mentally

Left-handed pitcher Kasey Kiker recently attended the Rangers' fall instructional league after completing his first full season with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings. Lone Star Dugout spoke with the 19-year-old about his season and his focus at instructs.

"It was a great year," said Kasey Kiker of his first full season in professional baseball. "It was a big turnaround from my first year, going 0-7. They let me go deeper in games this year and I was able to pitch later in games. I made it 6 2/3 – still trying to get to that seven inning mark. It was a good season with good coaches, good players, and good chemistry."

The Rangers' first round pick in 2006, Kiker joined the Single-A Clinton LumberKings in mid-May after beginning his season at extended spring training. The southpaw made 20 starts with the club and posted a 2.90 ERA – good enough for third in the Midwest League had he qualified – with 112 strikeouts in 96.1 innings.

Kiker didn't join a full-season club out of the gate in part because the Rangers wanted to limit his innings in his first full year. But the club also worked to adjust his mechanics.

"They changed my leg kick," said Kiker. "I kind of had an older style leg kick. In high school, I'd just do whatever. My dad and I worked on it. I got here and all these great minds got together and we compacted it a little bit and repeated it more and more."

In his professional debut in 2006, Kiker worked with a high Dontrelle Willis-esque leg kick. The Rangers' coaching staff decided to take the leg kick out in hopes that it would improve his command and ability to hold baserunners.

With just 11 stolen bases allowed all season – and a 52% caught stealing rate – it would appear that the adjustments helped Kiker control the basepaths.

"It worked great this year," said the 19-year-old. "I cut down on stolen bases and everything. It was a big deal. Instead of walking a double, I just walked a single. It wasn't an automatic steal. It used to be that I would walk somebody and they would steal second, steal third, and then score on a sac fly."

Kiker says it also helps to have an excellent defensive catcher like Manuel Pina behind the plate.

"Manny Pina is great," he said. "He has a hose, he's a good pitch caller, and a good blocker. He's an all-around good catcher."

One possible side effect of Kiker's new mechanics was a slight drop in velocity. The Alabama native was able to reach the mid-90's during his high school career, but he consistently sat in the 90-92 MPH range with Clinton in 2007. However, the left-hander believes part of the reason for the drop was because he was still getting accustomed to pitching once every five days.

Regardless of the reason, Kiker says his velocity returned during his last start of the year and he thinks it will only improve as he continues to grow accustomed to his new delivery.

"Velocity kind of came back my last game," said Kiker. "I threw up some of my old numbers in the last game of the season, just like in high school. It's there. I've just got to keep repeating that delivery and I think it's going to be there."

Kiker returned to Surprise, Ariz., for fall instructional league shortly after the LumberKings were eliminated from the Midwest League Playoffs. Though he only took the mound twice during the month-long camp, he felt he was able to learn a lot.

"Just more of the mental side of the game," replied Kiker when asked what he worked on at instructs. "You know they say baseball is 90 percent mental. We were sitting in classrooms getting the thought process, getting the wheels turning. It was like what pitches to throw, what to do with people on base, and what the hitter is trying to do. You have to try to keep him off balance."

The 5-foot-10 hurler plans to take those lessons with him into the offseason.

"I'm going to improve by just getting older and smarter," added Kiker. "I'm still going to pound the mental side of the game. I'm going to pound it all offseason by thinking about stuff and I'm going to try to come back in great shape."

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