Ballard picks up fourth pitch

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - Although Frisco left-hander Mike Ballard wasn't able to make his Major League debut this week, the recent addition of a fourth pitch has helped make him a very intriguing prospect for the future. Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with the 24-year-old pitcher.

Virginia native Mike Ballard was set to make his Major League debut at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the Rangers had a last-second change of heart, electing to use reliever Warner Madrigal in the spot-start instead. After watching the game in a suite, Ballard flew to Corpus Christi to re-join his Double-A Frisco teammates on Thursday morning.

Even though Ballard wasn't able to make his Major League debut this week, the left-hander is still having a successful 2008 campaign with the RoughRiders.

Ballard has made 15 starts with Double-A Frisco this season, going 8-3 with a 3.97 ERA. In 88.1 innings pitched this season, he has surrendered 107 hits – only three home runs – while walking 29 and striking out 64.

"I feel like I've had some good things happen," said Ballard of his season. "There have been some ups and downs obviously – a few good starts and a few bad starts. I guess overall I'm just kind of trying to stay even keel – not have a lot of rollercoaster-type things like good games and bad games."

The southpaw began the season by allowing just four runs in his first three starts, but he ran into trouble in late-April. Over his next five starts, Ballard would go 1-3 with an 8.76 ERA. Included in that span was a particularly rough 2 2/3 inning, 10 earned run performance in Corpus Christi.

Since losing to Northwest Arkansas on May 26, Ballard has made seven starts, posting a 5-0 record with a 2.17 ERA. In 45.2 innings, he's surrendered 47 hits, walked 11 and struck out 39.

Ballard says the key to his success has been his ability to go after hitters.

"I think the thing is just really pitching to contact," he said. "For a little while there, I was giving the hitters too much credit. Really, for the most part I was just out-thinking myself and trying to do too much out there instead of just really trusting my stuff and going after guys."

It is probably no coincidence that Ballard's hot streak began at roughly the same time he picked up his newest pitch – a cutter.

"Rick Adair, our pitching coordinator, wanted to show me a cutter," explained Ballard. "That's actually what I have been throwing for the past month and a half."

"[The cutter] was really simple for me to pick up. He told me it was going to be a real easy pitch. It was just real easy for me to figure out. I've been throwing more cutters. They tell me that it's three or four more miles an hour slower than my fastball. I've had fun throwing that."

The cutter has been beneficial to Ballard largely because he's able to keep hitters from sitting on his 86-88 mph fastball with it. Because the pitch looks like a fastball, hitters will often swing at the pitch just as it breaks into a right-hander, frequently leading to a foul ball or broken bat.

"I've gotten some [broken bats] in the past with my changeup or running my fastball in on guys," Ballard said, "but it has definitely increased that number with throwing cutters in on guys. I guess it just looks like a fastball right down the middle."

Although the pitch has been particularly helpful to Ballard against righties, he's been able to use the pitch with some success against left-handers as well.

"Definitely more against righties," said Ballard when asked if he threw the pitch more often to certain hitters, "but I have used it a number of times against lefties. I have had some success throwing that on the outer half and just kind of letting that run off the end of the plate. They'll either foul it off or swing and miss on it."

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