After being called up from Single-A Tampa in May, Eric Hacker has dominated the Eastern League to the tune of a 6-2 record and a 2.71 ERA in 76.1 innings, spaced out over fourteen starts. During that time he has held hitters to a .255 average, has a three to one strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 1.43 GO/AO and has only surrendered two homeruns.
When asked about his mastery of the Eastern League, Hacker attributes his success to a new approach.
"Just trying to stay within my game, just trying to make some pitches and throw strikes," said Hacker. "I'm trying not to overdo anything really, just staying within myself and letting my team play behind me is something I've been working on.
"I've thrown a new curveball this year, also, that's probably helped and I've also started to tighten up my slider a little bit. I started to do that last year and my success jumped up a little bit from there. I've gotten my strength back from my surgery."
However, these numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Hacker could still be improving. Trenton pitching coach Scott Aldred says that while Hacker is polished in terms of his mechanics and delivery, they are still working on some things to get him to the next level.
"We're trying to build on some stuff," said Aldred, "we're trying to get him to pitch just a little bit differently than maybe he's been accustomed to in the past. Something that will help once he gets to the big league level.
"I'd like to see him pitch with confidence with his changeup also, he hasn't been as productive with it as we would like."
Although the early returns at Double-A have been impressive, the constant refrain around Hacker is the need for an improvement of his changeup. With that said, what was once purely a show-me pitch has developed to where Hacker now feels much more comfortable throwing it than he had previously.
"The changeup is coming along," Hacker explained. "It's become a good pitch for me. It's been a development pitch for me, I'm starting to get a good feel for it and with that comes the ability to throw it, maybe, behind in the count.
"I should be using it more than I am, but I've been able to work it in enough that it's been able to offset some of my other pitches."
When asked if there was anything else Hacker needed to work on at Double-A other than the change-up, Aldred had some pointers.
"He does need to improve his overall command a little, he does a lot of things well and he commands pretty good. I would like to see a little more tilt with his slider, but other than that really focus on getting this changeup hammered out."
Despite the commitment to bettering the changeup, and thus using it more often than he would normally, Hacker has seen a rise in his strikeout numbers from last year. His strikeouts per nine innings has risen from 5.22 last year to 6.96 this year, and since coming to Trenton it has been 8.13.
"Hitters are a little bit more patient here than in Tampa and I'm having to throw more pitches," said Hacker. "I try to pitch to contact early but if they go up there and take a strike or two early, it sets up my other pitches nicely and makes it a little easier."
Although he will never lead the league in strikeouts, Hacker's improved K-rates combined with a propensity for getting ground balls in key situations has contributed to a low ERA and a high level of success.
A six-year minor league free agent at the end of the season, the Yankees organization will likely try hard to keep Hacker in the fold. Should the changeup ever really develop into an above-average offering, it is possible to envision Hacker as a starting option in the major leagues.
Hacker Working On The Change
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