Encinas Looking To Pound The Zone More

TAMPA, FL - Right-hander Gabe Encinas has already had an up and down season so far in the early going of the 2015 campaign. He has seen his plus stuff return to his pre-Tommy John form; nobody needs to look any further than his opponent's .134 batting average for further evidence. However, walking nearly six batters per nine innings so far, he and his coaches want him to pound the zone more.

Not many players got off to a more promising start to the 2013 campaign than Gabriel Encinas. Through seven starts he owned an ERA of 0.77, a WHIP of just over one and 31 strikeouts in 35 innings, then he had Tommy John surgery, ending his season.

Encinas came back in June of 2014 and just wasn’t the same pitcher he was before the surgery. Almost two years after having the surgery, he is beginning to return to form.

“I was really focusing on my mechanics this offseason,” Encinas said. “I feel like it really benefited me going into this season.”

Command has been a problem for Encinas throughout his career. He has issued 106 walks in 216 innings during his time in the minors.

Pitching coach Tommy Phelps said the walks began to be an issue toward the end of Spring Training this season and carried over to the start of the year.

“He’s been inconsistent. He throws 95- to 98 [mph] which is good,” Phelps said. “It’s just a matter of him getting the ball over the plate and being able to repeat his delivery. He is working on finding a consistent release point.”

The majority of his walks this year have come in three games. In those games, he gave up eleven walks in six innings. He hasn’t given up many hits this season which has helped him be able to work around the walks. Prior to Saturday’s start, he had only given up four hits all season. On Saturday, he gave up five hits in 3.2 innings.

His start was pushed back a day because of a rainout and he faced Brevard County the last time out so they may have been able to time him up a bit better. He struck out six and only gave up one walk Saturday.

Pre-surgery, Encinas was a starter and it looks like the team is gearing him up for that again. Manager Dave Bialas said he isn’t going to throw many innings this season and when he does pitch he is on a four inning or 60-pitch limit. Phelps believes he could be a real asset coming out of the bullpen though.

“With his arm and his stuff, he’d be great to have late in the game,” Phelps said. “Come in, finish up the seventh, eighth inning, maybe even ninth inning. If he commands the ball like he does at times he could close games out.”

Encinas has the fastball and curveball to be a reliever, but to be a starter he needs to work on his third pitch, the changeup.

“I’ve been working on a couple grips,” Encinas said. “Right now, I’m throwing a bit of a Vulcan change and it has been working gradually. I just need to control it.”

The Vulcan Changeup is a variation on the circle-change. It is gripped with the middle and ring finger and when thrown well can produce more movement. Ian Kennedy and Roy Oswalt are some notable pitchers that use this grip.

“The velocity separation is pretty good,” Phelps said. “He still has a tendency to push it and keep it up. The big thing for him is to get out in front with it and get it down to get some action down in the zone.”

Enicas thinks the curveball has been his best pitch this year and he hopes to get the fastball command to pair with it.

If he can turn the corner and cut down on the walks, Bialas thinks he has a bright future ahead of him.

“He needs to continue to work faster,” Bialas said. “He doesn’t need to be so mechanical. He’s got these infielders and outfielders that want to play too. He has a good arm and he just needs to pound the strike zone.”

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