Bakersfield starter Joe Wieland turned in the best outing of his professional career on Tuesday night.
Facing Visalia for the third time in five starts, the right-hander struck out a career-high 14 batters over seven scoreless innings. He scattered four hits without issuing a walk in 103 pitches.
Wieland dominated throughout, particularly in the early innings. After allowing a single to lead off the game, he retired 13 consecutive hitters with only one lifting a ball out of the infield.
The 20-year-old has a 6.53 earned-run average in his first seven starts at High-A Bakersfield, but his stuff has taken a definite step forward. Wieland has maintained consistent 91-93 mph fastball velocity, even touching 94 mph on occasion.
His curveball has also shown improvement. As the prospect explains below, he's throwing his breaking ball more often with the Blaze and the pitch has been more effective. It certainly shows up in the numbers––Wieland has 48 punchouts in his first 40 Cal League innings.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound hurler was solid in 15 starts at Single-A Hickory this season, posting a 3.34 ERA in 89 innings. He finished his time with the Crawdads by tossing a complete-game shutout at Hagerstown in late-June.
Though the results with Bakersfield have been hit-and-miss thus far, his improved stuff is the most important recent development. One scout who saw Wieland in a recent start remarked, "He was throwing 91-93 with a good downhill plane. The curveball was nasty. The changeup was hard at 85-86 and he left it up. I like him."
Lone Star Dugout caught up with Wieland after Tuesday's dominant start to get his reactions on both the game and his time with the Blaze.
Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on tonight's start in particular?
Joe Wieland: It was one of my better nights––one of my best nights this year. I was able to keep the ball low and hit my spots. I was throwing everything for strikes. I was getting ahead of guys, which was the big thing. I was able to get guys into holes really quick, which let me set up pitches. It just worked out.
Cole: For the most part, pretty much all of your professional experience had been in the massive Sally League. You don't see teams multiple times in a season very often. But now in the smaller Cal League, you've faced Visalia in three of your last five starts. Tell me about the challenges of that and how you're staying ahead of the curve with those guys.
Wieland: You'd think that the more you face a team, it'd be tougher and tougher to get them out. But I look at it like it'll be easier and easier for me to get them out now. Facing them three times, I know a lot of the holes and the weaknesses in their swings. I know what pitches I need to throw to get them out. Especially with my last two outings against them, that's what happened. I was able to execute the pitches.
Cole: Do you feel that helps you as a pitcher? You weren't able to practice what you learned about hitters as often in Hickory, but now you're able to do that in the Cal League.
Wieland: Yeah, definitely. It is helping me out a lot. I'm learning to throw certain pitches in certain counts. That's just throwing a pitch––trying to get an out. I'll try to throw that pitch and put it in a certain location. That's the biggest thing.
In Low-A, you can get away with more. But as I saw in my first couple outings at this level, mistake pitches get hit hard. The last few outings, I've learned how to pitch a lot better than in the beginning. The results have showed.
Cole: What are your thoughts on your seven starts with Bakersfield as a whole?
Wieland: Honestly, I feel like I'm pitching a lot better than my stats show. I know I had one outing that was pretty bad––the San Jose outing. But outside of that––the Rancho Cucamonga start, up until this game today, I felt that was my best outing. I made one mistake. I hung a curveball and it got hit out. It just hasn't rolled my way, but I started to gain confidence and now I'm starting to put up the numbers that I'm used to putting up.
Cole: Your walk totals have always been low, but since moving up to Bakersfield, you're striking out far more batters than you have in the past. What has been the key to that?
Wieland: Honestly, my curveball is much better than it was in Low-A. Back in Hickory, I was able to go four or five innings without even using my curveball at times. And when I needed it, it wasn't there. It wasn't as sharp or I wasn't consistent with it.
And now that I'm in the Cal League, you've got to show it early. I've been throwing it more and more. It has become a better and better pitch. When I need a big pitch or when I need to get that strikeout, that's what I've been going to. I've been able to get those strikeouts.
Cole: From the start of this season to now, what areas of your game do you feel have developed the most?
Wieland: I'd say learning hitters better. It started with Brad Holman. He was helping me to learn how to read hitters. Danny Clark said, ‘If you're going to start getting to higher levels, you can't just pitch anymore. You have to read hitters. You have to be able to throw certain pitch sequences.'
And as the year has gone on––especially since I've gotten here––pitch sequence, reading hitters, and making an approach has been the biggest thing. It has definitely helped me out since I've been here.
Cole: Like most young pitchers, you battled with the occasional dead arm period in your first full season last summer. Now that you've gone well past your innings total from last year, how is your arm feeling? Have you had any dead arm periods this season?
Wieland: Yeah. My last start, actually, it felt a little dead. But that is going to be expected. To be honest with you, I believe my velocity has gone up ever since the season started. Ever since I got to Bakersfield, my velo has gone up and I'm just happy with how my arm is feeling.
Cole: Being from Reno, you're pretty close to places like Stockton, Modesto, and San Jose. Tell me what it's like to finally be pitching close to home.
Wieland: It's very nice. I've only had one game so far––one start so far––where I haven't had anybody at the game. It's nice being close to friends and family. I just feel a lot more comfortable. My whole life I've pitched on the west coast. Now that I'm back here, it's nice pitching here and being able to pitch in front of my friends and family.
Cole: Talk to me about the Bakersfield club that you're playing on. You guys have really been rolling lately, with a 25-13 second-half record.
Wieland: It's exciting. We're having a lot of fun. It's a blast. Road trips are a lot of fun. The clubhouse atmosphere is awesome. We're winning, and when you win, you're going to have a lot of fun.
That's how the clubhouse was in Hickory during that first half. We were winning and had a lot of fun. Fortunately when I got here, we kind of went into the same clubhouse. We've had a lot of fun and it shows in our play and how we're approaching each game. It's just a blast to come out here every day.
Wieland racking up strikeouts with Blaze
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