• At this point, focus just might be the primary issue for Kennil Gomez. His stuff is pretty good and his command needs some work. In last year's interview with Bakersfield pitching coach Dave Chavarria, he pointed out that Gomez can sometimes lose focus.
"The big thing I think Gomez is finding out is just being focused every single pitch of every inning he throws," Chavarria said last August. "When he usually runs into trouble is when he loses focus.
"If there are two outs and it's a walk, it usually leads to something. Or if it's a little flare, he tries to do too much and loses focus. We're just trying to get him to where those little things won't hurt you. You have to focus on what you're doing with this pitch at this time and stuff like that."
And that was the biggest problem for Gomez on Thursday night.
The right-hander cruised through the first three innings, giving up no runs on just one hit. He struck out three, didn't issue a walk, and he was getting hitters to roll over his sinker.
Then he allowed a wind-aided solo homer to Stockton's Stephen Parker to lead off the fourth. And things began to unravel.
After the home run, Gomez had three-ball counts to four of the nine hitters he faced. He lost his command, giving up three walks and a couple line-drive base hits. The round-tripper was not particularly well-struck, but that it happened seemed to rattle Gomez and throw him off his game.
Though Gomez pitched well for most of his outing, his final line wasn't particularly pretty. Throwing 91 pitches in 4.1 innings, he surrendered three runs on four hits and four walks, striking out three.
FASTBALL – Gomez usually throws his sinking fastball anywhere between 86-91 mph, and that's about where he was on Thursday. He comfortably sat in the 87-89 range. While Gomez doesn't have overpowering velocity, he can miss bats with his fastball because of the outstanding sink and movement. Gomez got two of his strikeouts with the fastball––one looking at 89 mph well-placed at the knees and on the outside corner, and one swinging at 88 mph that just dove under the hitter's bat.
The Dominican Republic native still has some problems with commanding his fastball. When he pounds it down in the strike zone, he gets plenty of ground balls and gets his fair share of swings and misses with it. He doesn't miss up in the zone much, but he does miss out of the zone quite a bit.
Overall, Gomez has a good idea of how to pitch and his fastball is plenty good to have success at the upper levels––he just needs to refine the command and keep his focus. Gomez has an ERA north of 5.00 in 150 total innings with the Blaze, largely due to his in-game inconsistency.
CURVEBALL – The breaking ball is a definite work-in-progress with Gomez. Last year, he threw a slurvy curveball in the upper-70s that kind of slid across the plate. The spin wasn't very tight and he struggled to command it. While he did miss some bats with it at times, it wasn't a great pitch.
Gomez still throws a slurvy curve in the upper-70s at times, but he also mixed in some low-70s curveballs with better depth. It still wasn't above-average, but it showed quite a bit more potential. The slower curve had later break, and while it wasn't extremely tight or sharp, it was a better than his harder breaking ball. They're the same pitch––it just seems that the slower curve is a product of Gomez getting on top of the ball instead of getting around it.
He threw the breaking ball 13 times in Thursday's game, with the velocity ranging anywhere between 72-77 mph. He threw six strikes with it, and none of the pitches were put in play. He got four called strikes, a foul ball, and a swinging strike.
The curve is still a work in progress, and it appears to have a ways to go, but that he was mixing in the 72-74 mph curve with better depth is an encouraging sign. It'll be interesting to see how it progresses during this season.
CHANGEUP – The 22-year-old's change was his biggest development last season, as it began showing plus potential and developed into a strong swing-and-miss pitch that can also induce plenty of ground balls.
Gomez's changeup ranges anywhere between 81-85 mph, and it even touches 86 at times. The pitch is deceptive because it moves almost exactly like his fastball––just a tick slower. He gets screwball-like action on the pitch with good sink. Gomez still has trouble with leaving it up in the zone at times, but on the whole, he has a real nice feel for the pitch.
Left-handers are currently batting .393 against Gomez, and they hit him relatively hard last year. However, that appears to be more a product of fastball command to lefties and his inability to throw his breaking ball effectively against them. Gomez isn't afraid to mix in the occasional change to righties, either.
He induced a handful of weak ground balls against lefties on changeups that ran off the barrel and caught the tail end of the bat. He also froze a lefty with an 85 mph change for a called strike three.
• Bakersfield native Justin Miller had a bit of a rough outing in terms of command, as he needed 32 pitches to get three outs, throwing just 14 strikes. Miller sat 88-91 mph with his fastball, and he was often missing up and away to left-handed hitters. He also struggled to command the 81-83 mph slider, for the most part, though it got better the more he threw it.
• Sidearming righty Cody Eppley is an intriguing bullpen arm because of his absolutely dominant numbers the last two years. The Virginia Commonwealth product has plus command––he almost never leaves a ball up in the zone and works the corners well. His 85-88 mph fastball has outstanding sink with a little bit of armside run. He also threw a few sweeping sliders between 74-78 mph.
The 24-year-old faced five batters on Thursday, and he retired all five of them with groundouts. In 8.2 innings this season, he has yet to allow a run while giving up five hits, walking one, and striking out 10. He is getting 4.33 groundouts per flyout on the young season.
• Lefty Shane Zegarac, last season's 42nd-round pick, worked a scoreless eighth inning, getting a strikeout and two broken-bat groundouts with a single mixed in. He sat around 87-88 mph––getting a punchout looking on an 87 mph fastball––while also flashing a solid 76-77 mph curve and one 80 mph changeup.
• Corey Young struggled a bit in the ninth, but he also pitched in cold conditions in a game that had dragged on...and on...and on...and on.
Young was mixing in quite a few low-80s changeups, a pitch that he seemed to be working on against right-handed hitters. He got a swinging strikeout on an 88 mph sinker and caught a righty looking with an excellent backdoor late-breaking 74 mph curve. Young's curve is his money pitch because it is sharp and breaks over the plate at the last second.
Bakersfield's offense had an interesting game on Thursday, to say the least. They were held without a hit through the first 4.1 innings. Stockton starter Shawn Haviland left the game having given up just one run on two hits in 5.1 innings, striking out nine.
Then the bullpen imploded.
In all, the Blaze scored 12 runs with 11 hits, nine of which were singles. They walked 10 times and struck out 17 times.
• Engel Beltre's approach at the plate is better than it has been in the past. This spring, he appeared to be doing a better job of incorporating his speed into his offensive game, being a smarter base stealer and often bunting for base hits.
On Thursday, he was the only Blaze player to play all nine innings without striking out. Beltre worked three three-ball counts in his five plate appearances, walking twice [he didn't swing once on a 3-2 walk in his final trip]. He laced a changeup to center for an RBI single on his lone hit and stole second base with a great jump on the next pitch.
With a .235 batting average thus far, the 20-year-old isn't off to a great start statistically, but his game is showing definite signs of development, and that's the most important thing at this point.
• Left fielder Mike Bianucci is an aggressive hitter with above-average raw power. He likes to swing early in the count, and he can also crush a hanging curveball. Bianucci got two hanging slow curves in the game, lining out to third and hitting a single to center. He also struck out swinging when Haviland blew a fastball by him early in the contest.
• Tom Mendonca worked a couple walks, giving him four on the season. In the final at-bat, he laid off obvious pitches well out of the strike zone. But earlier in the game, he took some close offerings and showed decent recognition to get a walk on a 3-1 count. The third baseman's lone strikeout was also a strong at-bat––after falling behind 0-2, he worked the count full before swinging through a pitch.
Mendonca's triple was a hard grounder down the first base line. He showed surprising speed for a player his size once he turned on the burners and rounded the bases. The ball wasn't mishandled––he simply ran out the three-bagger.
• Perhaps no hitter summed up the late innings better than Mitch Hilligoss, who entered as the DH in the seventh inning. In Hilligoss' three plate appearances, he walked three times, including once with the bases loaded. Ports relievers combined to walk eight batters in only four innings, also mixing in a number of wild pitches.