Niebla Looking To Make The Adjustment

TRENTON, NJ - When Luis Niebla was told that he was being promoted to the Trenton Thunder, he couldn’t help but feel elated at the opportunity of competing at the next level of baseball as he continues to pursue his dream of competing at the Major League level. But when he first got to Trenton, he immediately noticed the difference of being in Double-A.

He was slated to make his first Double-A appearance and start, his second start overall this season, against Harrisburg on May 17 and knew he had his work cut out for him.

Speaking of the competition, the young Mexican noticed a big jump in the level of baseball and overall difficulty of succeeding between High-A baseball and Double-A baseball.

“There’s a huge jump in the quality baseball from high-A to Double-A and not just the batters,” Niebla said. “The umpires, the strike zones, and just the way I have to pitch to get the calls is different. But other than that, not much is different. This is still baseball.”

Niebla’s Trenton Thunder debut started out great for him. He got the entire lineup out in order, not allowing a single hit or walk through 3 innings. He was using his fastball most of the time, clocked in at mostly 90-92 mph.

The great start could be attributed to his efficiency and control. He was able to keep his composure whenever he would get behind in the count and still able to get the out. One moment was the very first at-bat of the game going up against Harrisburg Senator left fielder Derrick Robinson, when Niebla’s first two pitches were fastballs off the plate and then jammed Robinson into a groundout with a fastball on the low inside corner of the plate.

It only took 33 pitches to get through the first three innings of the game and he seemed poised to have a very successful debut. The Senators, however, figured out Niebla’s pitching and took advantage of it. Niebla allowed two hits to start off the fourth inning and two runs allowed and a walk later in the inning, Niebla’s day was done and got replaced by Johnny Barbato with the bases loaded. His final line was 3.1 innings pitched, four hits allowed, and five earned runs allowed.

Niebla said he tried too hard to get ahead in the count in the fourth inning and therefore, got behind in the count instead. In trying too hard, Thunder pitching coach Jose Rosado thinks that he may have tired his arm out a bit, but still liked what he saw when Niebla in the first three innings.

“I think his start was good for the most part, getting all nine batters out in the first three innings,” Rosado said. “He may hit a wall entering the fourth and seemed to have gotten tired, but remember he just got here from Tampa, facing better competition here in Double-A and gave us the chance to stay in the game early on. Hope he bounces back, and learn from this first start and do better the next time he’s on the mound.”

Niebla said after the game that despite the start, he feels good entering the season and is more ready to pitch than any other year he’s been in the organization. He’s been working on several things during the offseason, including conditioning, his control and overall just better preparing himself to pitch this year.

It’s easy to ignore his work in Tampa earlier this year, but he pitched great there, striking out 18 batters in 17 innings while holding a very impressive 0.53 ERA in high-A. He’s been able to pitch so well thanks in part to the multiple pitches he has under his command, including a curveball that has adequate spin, a changeup and a slider he’s been working on for the past few years.

Thunder manager Al Pedique noticed this and knew that Niebla was making a lot of improvements in preparation to this season and thought he would make a great addition to his team. Based on what he was pitching and from reports coming from Tampa, Pedrique knew that it was time for him to make the jump to the next level.

“Before coming here, he was working on his command in Tampa, keeping the ball down, and avoid throwing a lot of pitches early on,” Pedrique said. “He was throwing his second pitch, capable of throwing a curveball and a slider, plus a changeup. He was throwing those pitches effectively. The people in Tampa said that once he was able to get ahead on the count, he used a lot of his secondary pitches well, so that’s a good sign and that’s what we’re looking for.”

So far we have seen mixed results from Niebla's two appearances in Trenton. Allowing nine earned runs and four walks in 3.1 innings pitched isn't a good sign early on, but the good everyone saw in Niebla is that he's shown he can go multiple innings and jam batters into ground outs and fly outs with good control and efficient pitching.

Rosado and the rest of the coaching staff aren’t going to panic after just two bad appearances. It’s not easy adjusting to a new team and league mid-season and they feel good about his chances of success.

“He’s capable of doing well here,” Rosado said. “Niebla has a strong arm. He’s improved a lot and has been pitching exceptionally well this season. Hey, if he remains healthy and have the desire and keep working at it, he might have a breakout year.”

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