Felipe Rivero, the 21-year-old Bowling Green starter hailing from Venezuela, recently had the honor of pitching in the MLB Futures Game for the World squad.
"I just have to keep doing what I'm doing," Rivero said about being selected to the Futures Game. " I'm trying to be focused on my game and a good teammate to just help my team."
Bill Moloney, Hot Rods pitching coach, was able to talk to Rivero after the Futures Game and said he thinks that he enjoyed the experience and being able to pitch in front of 41,000 people.
"Hopefully for him, he just took it all in," Moloney said.
Rivero's performance wasn't anything special in the Futures Game, but it was clear that nerves and anticipation had set in for the young prospect, which can be expected.
Rivero has been the centerpiece for the Bowling Green Hot Rods pitching staff all year. On the season he has a 2.35 ERA in 16 starts and has allowed just four home runs and 21 walks in 97.1 innings. Currently, however, Rivero sports a 6-7 record, but that is not what's important to Rivero or Moloney.
"Those numbers don't worry me," Moloney said.
Moloney focuses more on a pitcher's walks to strikeouts ratio, which has been very good for Rivero. He has 7.79 strikeouts per nine innings compared to only 2.24 walks per nine this season.
Wins and loses don't always translate to the success of the pitcher because it has more to do with the run support the pitcher is receiving and Rivero understands that.
"I don't look at that (wins and loses) I just look at my ERA to get it as low as I can," Rivero said. "If I don't get a win, it's ok."
Rivero was named the Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Month for April after only allowing two earned runs in the month. He started the year in by not allowing an earned run in his first 21.1 innings and walking only one hitter in his first three starts. Rivero went on to finish the month with a 2-1 record and a 0.67 ERA in five starts.
"It was great, I didn't really think about it though," Rivero said of being the best minor league pitcher in April for the Rays. "I think it was just a gift to me and I have to keep doing my job."
To add to Rivero's accomplishments this season, he was also one of eight Hot Rods selected to the Midwest League All-Star game. Rivero felt honored to be selected and excited because he had not been in an All-Star game before.
"It was great, I've never been in something like that, it was my first," Rivero said.
However his mind set didn't change going into the All-Star game.
"It's just another game,"Rivero said.
Rivero has done very well in his first full season as a professional pitcher. According to Moloney, the expectations for Rivero were not unlike what they would be for any pitcher in his first year of full season ball - creating fastball command and making it through the season injury free.
So far he as accomplished both.
"He has done what we expected him to do, maybe even a little above and beyond what we expected," Moloney said of Rivero's success this season.
As the months have gone by in the season, Rivero's ERA has risen above the impressive 0.67 mark in April to a 2.97 in May and 3.20 in June. Moloney doesn't believe that it is a sign of Riveo's performance declining but more of the hitter's catching up him.
"I would say it's not him (Rivero) declining, it's them (opposing hitters) getting better," Moloney said.
Rivero looks to have a lot of confidence when he is on the mound but Moloney said he has a slight problem with his body language.
"You can tell when things aren't going right with him," Moloney said.
Keeping Rivero relaxed and creating consistency is what Moloney focuses on to counteract the body language issue.
"Things aren't always going to go the way you want them to go," Moloney said. "But you have to have control over it."
Rivero's approach when facing opposing hitters is attacking them early.
"I'm going to attack them early, first pitch strike then I can work on my off speed," Rivero said.
This approach has worked well this season as Rivero has 73 strikeouts.
Last season Rivero's fastball was only topping out about 92 mph., but this season he is consistently hitting the 95 mph. mark.
Mechanically, Moloney said Rivero has a very quick arm and that he does everything fast and so what he has tried to do with Rivero is slow him down.
"We're having him be a complete pitcher and not just a thrower," Moloney said.
Moloney has been trying to get more consistency out of Rivero's slider and changeup as well.
"As long as he is in good position to throw the ball then it's executing the pitch," Moloney said.Moloney always preaches to his pitchers that at this level of baseball, it is all about fastball command, and Rivero has shown vast improvement in that area.
"I'm impressed with his fastball command at such a young age," Moloney said about what impresses him the most about Rivero's game.
Rivero has walked three batters or more just three times in 17 starts and last season in Princeton he walked just 13 batters in a total of 60.1 innings.
"I have pretty good control, this year it's getting better," Rivero said.
As far as the rest of Rivero's arsenal of pitches - nothing has really changed since joining the Hot Rods.
"No it's all the same," Rivero said about introducing any new pitches.
For Moloney it's about working with Rivero on perfecting what he already has in his arsenal.
"When he (Rivero) does everything good, he's pretty good," Moloney said about not giving Rivero any new pitches for him to try out.
The Rays pay close attention to their pitching prospects' innings and that is starting to go into effect for Rivero. In his last two starts he has pitched no more than three innings.
Manager Brady Williams said they have to start limiting his innings; otherwise he would be done for the season in a month.
"It's for the pitchers own health," Moloney said of the inning limitation of Rivero.
Moloney believes that the only negative that can come from inning limitation is if Rivero goes out there knowing he is only going to throw two or three innings and he doesn't work on anything. Moloney does his best to keep his pitchers focused in these situations.
"If its only three innings he still has to pitch like he's going seven," Moloney said.
After going through try-outs for two years and spending time in Venezuela playing ball before being signed by the Rays as a free agent in 2008, Rivero has made it to Bowling Green and is ready to turn it on.
"Now that I'm here I think I can do more," Rivero said.
Rivero said he is most comfortable in the 100-degree weather like they saw in Bowling Green recently.
"It's like home for me," Rivero said about the record setting game time temperatures.Despite being on of the most dominant pitchers in April and being awarded the Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Month, Rivero said he doesn't like pitching in the cold because it doesn't feel good on his arm.
Rivero comes off as a laid back young man when he isn't pitching but is more than focused when he is takes the mound. Before the game Rivero likes to stay focused and relaxed by listening to music. His mindset towards the game of baseball is always putting the team first.
"I do the best I can to help my team," Rivero said. "If my team wins then I'm ok."
Austin Nichols is the Bowling Green beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nichols_HotRods.
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