Kirkman mixing up deep repertoire

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Michael Kirkman opened the season with a surprise assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City, and he is holding his own in his first two starts with the RedHawks. Lone Star Dugout has a feature story on the 23-year-old prospect.

Four batters into his first Triple-A start, Michael Kirkman was having flashbacks.

While pitching against the Albuquerque Isotopes on April 10, Kirkman surrendered three consecutive doubles with just one out in the first inning of his Pacific Coast League debut.

But at least he'd gotten an out. During Kirkman's Double-A debut with Frisco last summer, he gave up three singles and a walk–while also uncorking a wild pitch–before even retiring a hitter.

"It was kind of like my first Double-A start last year," Kirkman said about his introduction to Triple-A. "I gave up three runs in the first in that start. It was kind of like that, but this wasn't so extreme."

The left-hander settled down after first-inning struggles in both debuts. In the more recent one, Kirkman allowed a solo homer on a fastball left up in the zone in the second inning, but he then retired 10 consecutive hitters.

When the dust had settled, Kirkman surrendered four runs on six hits in five innings, walking zero and striking out four.

Kirkman was pleased with the start–particularly the lack of walks. He issued five free passes in last season's Double-A debut.

"I felt like I threw really well," he said. "I had a couple balls that found gaps early, and I left the ball up in the second inning. But overall I think I threw really good. I threw a lot of strikes and pounded the zone. I was really happy with not walking anybody. I just took advantage of some of the hitters' aggressiveness."

Kirkman touches 94 mph in nearly every start.
The 23-year-old is coming off a breakout campaign that landed him on the Rangers' 40-man roster over the offseason. Not only did Kirkman's fastball tick up to the 91-94 mph range, but he also re-introduced a hard slider to his repertoire. The slider looked to have plus potential, and it was a legitimate swing-and-miss offering at times.

Because Kirkman is on the 40-man roster, he got an automatic invitation to Major League Spring Training out of the gates this season. While he struggled in ‘A' games, giving up five earned runs in just 1.1 innings, Kirkman was successful while getting plenty of time in intrasquad and ‘B' games against big league competition.

He was happy with the overall experience and results.

"It was great," Kirkman said of his time in big league camp. "I learned a lot of stuff baseball-wise and a lot of stuff life-wise. It was just a great experience."

In fact, Kirkman's stuff and results were impressive enough to change the Rangers' minds.

"They told me, when they sent me down [to minor league camp], that coming into camp I was going to Double-A," he said. "And they said I opened some eyes and they were open to sending me here in OK City. And that's where I ended up coming."

Kirkman's time in big league camp didn't just help him land a spot in Triple-A––it helped him improve his already above-average stuff.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound prospect worked with Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux to add a two-seam fastball and a cutter to his repertoire. Because Kirkman's four-seam fastball doesn't have a ton of natural movement, he wanted to give hitters a different look at times.

Kirkman still throws his four-seam fastball the majority of the time, but he mixes in quite a few two-seamers and the occasional cutter as well. The Lake City, Fla., native has had success with the sinker, getting a number of ground balls with it both this spring and early this season.

In addition to using three different variations of his fastball, Kirkman also mixes in two breaking balls and a changeup.

At times, the hurler will rely on his slider more than the curve. Sometimes it's the opposite. Kirkman says it just all depends on the day.

"It's just the feel," he said. "One day with my curveball, I might throw it 50 feet eight times in a row and my slider will be spot-on. Other times, I might hang three sliders in a row and I'll have to go to the curveball, and it's usually there."

However, when both are working, Kirkman prefers the slider. When he is able to throw both pitches over for strikes, he tends to use the 76-78 mph curveball as a get-me-over pitch and the 82-84 mph sharp slider to put hitters away.

Kirkman had more overall success in his second Triple-A start, as he earned the victory against Round Rock on Thursday evening. The southpaw surrendered two runs [one earned] on four hits over five innings, walking two and striking out three.

Although he didn't have the sharpest command of his secondary stuff in the outing, he was still able to hold his own at the higher level, which is certainly a positive sign.

For the remainder of the year, Kirkman just wants to focus on hammering down that overall command, but particularly with his 84-86 mph changeup.

"I want to get my changeup over for strikes and get outs with it rather than just throwing it and trying to get a strikeout with it. I want to put it in the zone and let guys get themselves out with it."

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