Font learning to command

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Part of right-hander Wilmer Font's maturation as a pitcher is learning how to find a balance between power and command. The 20-year-old is off to a nice start in High-A, working seven innings in two of his first three starts. Lone Star Dugout takes an in-depth look at Font's latest outing.

Wilmer Font was outstanding in his third High-A start, yielding only one run over seven innings pitched. The big right-hander allowed just three singles while walking two and striking out six.

"I thought he threw extremely well," said Doug Hogan, who caught the game. "He had command of his fastball and curveball. We just worked off his fastball and used the curveball when he needed to."

?In Monday's start, Font looked like a much different pitcher than in previous years.

While working in the rookie-level Arizona League in 2007 and 2008, Font was more of a thrower. He flashed overpowering gas that ranged anywhere from 90-100 mph, reaching the mid-to-upper-90s with regularity. However, he had little command.

With Hickory last season, Font made strides, showing improved command at 92-96 mph. His feel for pitching progressed during the season, and the result was fewer walks and fewer pitches per inning after the Sally League All-Star break.

On Monday afternoon, Font's fastball sat between 88-92 mph, and he commanded his fastball well throughout. The Venezuela native attacked the strike zone with regularity, working down in the zone and changing the hitters' eye level by elevating when necessary.

"He threw a lot of good pitches," Hogan said. "He was down in the zone and worked ahead of all the hitters."

Font, who threw 96 pitches against Visalia, has worked seven innings in each of his last two starts. He had never pitched more than five innings in any previous career outing.

Even though Font has been pitching professionally in the U.S. since 2007, he is the youngest pitcher in the High-A California League, having turned 20-years-old in late-May.

With a thick 6-foot-4 frame, Font has always been blessed with a good body and a powerful arm, but he has also battled issues with command and feel for secondary stuff.

In past seasons, Font struggled with his curveball, but the breaking pitch was his second-best offering in Monday's start. He threw a number of curves, coming in between 69-74 mph, and the break is beginning to tighten as he gets on top of it more often.

Four of Font's six strikeouts came on the curveball, including a pair on tight 74 mph pitches that broke down and across the plate to right-handers. When he is able to find his release point and get on top, the curve has the depth and sharpness to make it effective.

While Font had troubles with his curve last season, his changeup made strides and looked like a potential plus pitch at times.

However, because he had so much success with the fastball-curveball mix on Monday, he didn't throw many changeups in the game.

"His changeup was kind of a non-factor today," Hogan said. "We didn't really need it in a lot of situations.

"The few times that we did throw them, he was missing with them. So we put it in the back pocket for when he needed it. We just stuck with his two strongest pitches today, which were his fastball and his curveball."

Font clearly still has some work to do in terms of consistency. His first High-A start was disastrous, as he issued five walks and surrendered six runs in only two innings.

But the last two outings show definite progress, and Hogan, who caught Font at Single-A Hickory last season, is in total agreement.

"Last year, a lot of times he was just reaching back and throwing as hard as he could," he said. "He has got the arm to do that stuff, but it hurt him sometimes because he fell behind a lot of hitters.

"Now he's working ahead of the hitters and using his fastball with a lot more command than he did last year."

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