RMLN – Frisco splits four in Midland

MIDLAND – With Lone Star Dugout on hand, the Frisco RoughRiders recently split a four-game set against the Midland RockHounds. We provide notes and observations from the series, touching on a handful of the club's prospects.

• Lefty Richard Bleier opened the series with outstanding work, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and allowing just two runs on two hits over seven frames. Perhaps more importantly, Bleier's fastball velocity was up, as he worked in the upper-80s and touched the low-90s a handful of times.

Bleier credits the velocity spike to a few mechanical adjustments made during pitching coordinator Danny Clark's recent visit to Frisco.

"We worked on getting my hand more on top of the ball," he said. "We want to get my body through the pitches instead of pulling off. I was losing my arm angle and sink––I was getting more run than sink. I got more on top of the ball in my last start, got more extension, and I had more body behind the ball. I was throwing a little harder and had better results."

The 23-year-old threw his sinking fastball around 87-91 mph at Florida Gulf Coast University, but he has sat more in the 84-88 mph range for much of the last two seasons. Bleier says he starts falling into the bad habits when he gets tired, and he hopes the fix leads to a consistent velocity spike.

"I see some stuff last year where my arm was lower," he said. "But I think it has been hit or miss with my arm slot dropping when I get tired deep into games or deep into the season. I probably start lowering it out of fatigue. It's something I'm aware of now, and I know that when I start getting tired, I need to really focus on staying on top of my pitches."

Tatusko threw lots of fastballs in his start.
Ryan Tatusko surrendered just one run in three-plus innings during his first Double-A start on Tuesday, but he was shaky. The righty gave up only two hits and fanned three, but he issued five walks and threw less than 50 percent of his pitches for strikes [31 of 66].

"It was rough," Tatusko said after the game. "I got myself in a couple jams that I really didn't need to be getting myself into. I kind of created some innings for myself that I could have gotten hurt in. It hurt me with my pitch count.

"I knew I was on a set pitch count and maybe that was in the back of my head a little bit and I kind of got to myself. But I created some innings and I'm thankful I didn't get hurt as bad as I could have."

It wasn't all bad for Tatusko, who has seen his velocity jump up a tick from last season. He worked between 92-94 mph, touching 95 a couple of times. His fastball [and changeup, for that matter] features some natural cut. He just had plenty of problems commanding it.

"Overall I thought my stuff was good," he said. "I was just trying to nibble too much instead of having the mentality that I had out of the ‘pen, where I just came right after people. I think I was just trying to be too fine tonight."

Coming into the start, the 6-foot-5 hurler was on a stretch of 14 scoreless innings over his five previous relief appearances. Tatusko walked just four while fanning 13 over that span. When he toes the rubber for his second start, he realizes he needs to remember what he did to have success as a reliever.

"I can't change what I'm doing," said the 25-year-old. "Don't change my approach. Don't change what I've been doing out of the ‘pen. I still need to have the mentality of attacking people and I don't need to be too fine. I have to throw the ball over the plate and let things happen."

• Reliever Warner Madrigal is on a rehab assignment with the ‘Riders, and it appears that he'll be using the maximum 30 days before being activated. Because Madrigal is on the 60-day DL, he isn't currently counting against the Rangers' 40-man roster. However, the club has an open spot on the roster, and Madrigal will likely become that 40th man while being optioned to the minors once activated.

There is some positive news to report about Madrigal. The right-hander has lost 25 pounds since last season, and he is aiming to lose more weight. During an outing in Midland, the 26-year-old tossed a perfect inning on eight pitches, throwing all fastballs between 94-96 mph.

The velocity Madrigal showed was a tick up from the 92-94 mph he sat at last year, and stuff has never been a problem. He flashes a nice splitter-slider mix to go with plus velocity. His primary issue in the big leagues has been command, but it's too early to give up on him. If Madrigal continues to dedicate himself to getting into better shape, he could help the Rangers' bullpen at some point this season.

Jones has gone back to the curve.
• Left-hander Beau Jones' curveball is back. The 23-year-old appeared in one game against the RockHounds, logging a scoreless inning with one walk and one strikeout while flashing a mid-70s curveball.

Prior to the 2009 campaign, Jones had always featured a curve as his lone breaking pitch, but the Rangers changed that last season. The club had him working on a 78-80 mph slider to go with his 88-91 mph fastball and promising changeup. He never found much consistency with the slider, however, and he has reinstated the curveball.

• Top pitching prospect Martin Perez may have entered his first slump as a professional. The southpaw surrendered a career-high seven earned runs during his start in Midland, lasting just 3.1 innings. On the bright side, he still showed enough swing-and-miss stuff to match a season best with six strikeouts during that time.

While Perez is struggling, it is important to remember that he turned 19-years-old in April, and he is more raw than most people give him credit for. Perez consistently sits at 93-94 mph, and he will throw his fastball anywhere between 91-96 during most starts––certainly plus velocity, particularly for a left-hander. But his fastball command is inconsistent, leading to consistently high pitch counts.

The Venezuela native has also struggled with his curveball this season. He doesn't always finish it and it's not always a tight, sharp break. It isn't a plus pitch yet, but it still projects highly. Perez has a tendency to throw his changeup too hard, but it is still an advanced pitch with excellent fade that helps him succeed against right-handed hitters.

Basically, Perez is struggling right now. His raw stuff is solid, and he projects for three plus pitches in the future. However, the command needs refinement across the board, and he's learning how to pitch to hitters that are up to seven years his elder. He has shown flashes of brilliance thus far, and it will be interesting to see how he progresses during a full Texas League season.

Teagarden is still having trouble with the bat.
Taylor Teagarden is beginning to get some hits in Double-A, but he is still struggling with timing. The catcher had some difficulty catching up to plus fastballs, and his two-RBI single on May 18 was a bloop shot, coming on a fastball that got in on his hands.

Teagarden was getting some respect from a few Midland pitchers, as they appeared reluctant to give him fastballs, often resorting to offspeed stuff out of the strike zone. The 26-year-old still has strong plate discipline, and he rarely chases junk out of the zone, but catching up to the hard stuff with much consistency continues to be an issue.

Matt Lawson may not have the sexiest tools, but he's a hard-working player that gets the most out of his ability. He also continues to improve and produce near the top of the Frisco order.

Showing a strong approach and the ability to simply hit the ball where it's pitched, the second baseman went 8-for-16 with two walks and no strikeouts during the four-game set in Midland. He is batting .329 with 12 walks and 10 strikeouts during the month of May.

Lawson has improved with each of his three full professional seasons. He posted a strong .293 average with Bakersfield last year, but he had just 32 walks versus 127 strikeouts. So far this season, Lawson has 21 walks and 27 strikeouts in 41 contests––a nice improvement considering the jump in levels.

California League managers named Lawson the top defensive second baseman in the circuit last season [via Baseball America] after he committed only 13 errors for a strong .980 fielding percentage in 126 games at the position. He fields the position well with a combination of quick feet, soft hands, and smooth actions.

For more in-depth analysis on the Frisco RoughRiders, check out this thread about the series on our premium message board.

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