In 2008 Duane Below led the Florida State League in strikeouts with 126 K's in 133 1/3 innings of work. With a solid strike out per nine inning ratio it would surprise some that he would have a repeat performance in the Florida State League. Then you see the 1.60 WHIP, the 4.46 ERA and that opposing hitters were batting .280 off Below.
"There's times where you question… where do you go from here? Doing pretty good throughout your whole life and [then] you struggle a little bit."
A season with such great peaks and valleys made it necessary for Below to stay in the FSL for extra seasoning. By staying in Lakeland Below has a chance to work on his fundamentals before challenging hitters in the Eastern League. Especially since Below made a few changes in his delivery during the offseason.
"I moved over from the first base side of the rubber back to the third base side, where I was in college, and so far I feel comfortable there throwing a lot of strikes" The results have been impressive. In Below's first 23 1/3 innings he has struck out 34 batters, allowed a WHIP of just 1.17 and opposing batters are hitting below the Mendoza line off of him (.174).
One of the main reasons why he has had success this season is Below's fastball. Last season he was working in the 87-88 MPH range and topping out at 90mph. Now his fastball is sitting at 89-91 and reaching 93 MPH when he needs to. The jump has made his starts a must see by area scouts. However Below isn't focusing on velocity, "I try not to focus too much on that [velocity] my goal is to not to walk anybody and get ground balls for the defense behind me"
Now the question is when does he take the next step? "There's a point where you obviously want to move up and achieve your goals to get to the big leagues, but yet being in Lakeland again let's me work out things here and work with Joe Coleman in the warm weather"
There are a few steps Below has to take before he can compete for a spot in the rotation in Erie. "Working on locating my pitches, inside and out with my fastball and up and down, I really have to work on locating my change up and throwing strikes with my curveball would be huge" Command has been his biggest asset in his starts. Before his start against Tampa Below only walked three batters in 15 2/3 innings.
During his start against Tampa he started to miss the strike zone. One of Below's strengths is his rhythm. He is known as one of the fastest working pitchers in the league, which defenses love since it keeps down time to a minimum. When the wheels start to come off, his strength can become a weakness, by rushing his pitches. "In the previous years I wouldn't necessarily recognize it, I would keep going and walk guys, this year when I do feel like I start rushing or going too fast I step off and slow myself down and go back to work throwing strikes."
Adding the change-up will be key to keep batters off sitting on his fastball or curve. The development of his third pitch has been a work in progress. "When I was in West Michigan I had it but I wasn't really comfortable with it, every time I went to throw it I wasn't too sure in it."
Now after working with the pitching staff in Lakeland he has developed his change up to be a real asset in his repertoire "After working with Matt Lacke and Joe Coleman I feel more comfortable with it now and can throw it anytime in the count."
Below is hoping that by mid season he will get the call to pack his bags and move to Erie. As long as he follows Matt Lacke's and Joe Coleman's tutelage, by pounding the strike zone and pacing himself in his starts that could be a possibility. Below's future is in his command.