Strike zone command key for minor-league pitchers

Phillippe Aumont (48) walks back to the dugout after pitching in the eighth inning during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Miami, Monday, May 20, 2013. The Marlins defeated the Phillies 5-1. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Phillippe Aumont (48) walks back to the dugout after pitching in the eighth inning during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Miami, Monday, May 20, 2013. The Marlins defeated the Phillies 5-1. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Posted: June 17, 2013

The most difficult task for young pitchers is to have command of the strike zone, and failure to do so keeps so many in the minor leagues.

Lehigh Valley righthander Phillippe Aumont is a classic example. The Phillies rave about his stuff, but his inability to throw strikes consistently caused his demotion to the IronPigs.

He averaged 6.9 walks per nine innings this season when the Phillies sent him down.

"He is like a lot of others in that they are a work in progress," Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said. "It is about gaining confidence, and we're in the stage that he and a lot of young pitchers need something positive going on, and we will dwell on the positives . . . ."

Minor-league coaches have the difficult task of pointing out mistakes while not ruining a young pitcher's confidence.

"Pitchers can go through slumps just as a batter does, but we don't look at it the same way," said Reading manager Dusty Wathan. "As a manager, part of the job is helping them gain that confidence and allowing them to have success."

Wathan said that pitchers have to trust not only their stuff but their fielders.

"They have to realize that as they move up levels, the defenders behind them are better," he said.

Of course if pitchers throw the ball over the middle of the plate, batters will crush the pitch, so the offering can't be too good. But they also can't miss the strike zone by much.

"If you throw quality strikes down in the zone, even in the middle of the plate, you will get guys out," Wathan said. "A lot of guys' problem is they will elevate the ball, and good hitters will get to an elevated pitch more quickly while you need a perfect swing to get to a ball down in the zone."

Wathan said that major-league managers have too much at stake to keep going with somebody who doesn't have good command.

"I was around Lou Piniella in Seattle," Wathan said. "He would always say he was sending guys down for not throwing strikes."

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