Will Roberts doesn’t mind when opposing batters square up his pitches.
That’s because the Aeros right-hander lives by pitching to contact and depends greatly on his teammates being on their toes behind him on defense.
“He’s a guy who needs to pitch to contact because he doesn’t have that power pitch, he’s more of a finesse pitcher,” Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “So, he needs to get ahead in the count for his pitches to work and pitch to contact with the defense ready to field.”
But Roberts, the Indians fifth-round draft pick in 2011, abhors walks.
So much so, the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder has issued only 10 free passes in 57 innings spanning 10 games (nine starts) with the Aeros since joining the team April 30 from high Class-A Carolina.
In Roberts’ last start — the Aeros 13-4 victory over New Britain in the series opener Friday — he scattered 11 hits that led to all four of the Rock Cats’ runs. He did not walk a single batter.
“I kind of found out early on in my baseball career that when you start giving people stuff for free, they’re really going to make you pay because the hits are going to come,” said Roberts, 22, who is 5-4 with a 4.58 ERA with the Aeros in his first taste of Double-A. “So, I just try to minimize it and make them earn it by whatever they get by hits.
“I’m a command guy who throws strikes. Sometimes that’s good. But sometimes I’ll have games like [Friday’s] where I give up a good number of hits. Can you imagine the outcome if I’d have walked three or four guys on top of that? I would have given up a lot more runs, that’s for sure.”
But Roberts’ pinpoint command can only carry him so far at this level against mature hitters who are patient enough to lay off pitches that aren’t what they’re looking to drive.
“Because Will has good fastball command and shows above-average arm strength, he can locate his fastball pretty good,” Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard said. “That usually allows him to get through a lineup effectively two times.”
It’s the third time through, however, that tends to give Roberts the most trouble.
“Not having a third pitch has kind of given him some problems when that lineup turns over the third time,” Hibbard said. “But while he’s been here, he’s really worked on his curve ball and his change-up has improved.”
Credit Roberts for being able to work on his less-effective pitches, often during games. It’s certainly not a skill easily done at an advanced minor league level.
“That’s big for him to show a willingness to work on things even though he’s here in Double-A and in the middle of competing,” Hibbard said. “He’s still showing the ability to develop and get better as a pitcher.”
Learning on the go has been the way a handful of the Aeros’ younger pitchers have had to go about their development this season, as many have been promoted to the next level before they normally might be during other years when there’s not so much movement within the organization.
When Roberts was called up to Akron nearly two months ago, he had no idea if it was filling in for one start, a couple of weeks or longer.
“It took about a week, week and a half until I realized I was probably staying and could get all my stuff sent here and get a car here,” said Roberts, who tossed a nine-inning perfect game that included 10 strikeouts as a junior at the University of Virginia and made ESPN Sports Center’s Top Play later that evening.
The perfect game remains one of Roberts’ best moments as a pitcher, even if it took a little while to settle in just how big the feat was.
“Our media guy told me he sent in the tape, so we were watching the Top 10 and they kept going down and we’re like, ‘Aw, they’re not even going to show it,’ ” Roberts said. “They got to the Top 3, and I’m thinking, ‘no way, it’s just a college baseball game.’ But when it ended up being No. 1 — that was really cool.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.