Sam Hentges is currently ranked as one of the top 10 prospects in the Indians' farm system, a towering lefty with a mid-90s fastball and some promising off-speed pitches. But it doesn't mean he's immune to one of the pitfalls that ensnare many young pitchers from time to time.
He's struggled to really trust his stuff and understand that he can best opposing hitters without tying to be perfect. Yes, he can blow his fastball by hitters. Yes, his breaking pitches can generate swings-and-misses. And no, not every pitch has to paint the black to do so.
Hentges, ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the Indians' system by MLB Pipeline and No. 6 entering the 2019 season by Baseball America, began the year on a borderline disastrous note. He was being knocked around and knocked out of games early due to a flurry of hits and higher pitch counts. Entering the month of May, a stretch that included his first five starts, his ERA was an eye-opening 8.02 and he had pitched into the sixth inning only once.
"This season hasn't gone statistically how I've wanted," Hentges said. "There have been some road blocks and some tough games that I've thrown a lot of pitches. A big thing for me has been getting ahead of hitters. If you throw 4-5-6-7 pitches to every hitter, you're not going to go very deep into the game. It's about throwing as many quality pitches per game as you can, and there's been some games this year where I didn't do that."
Hentges, a lefty who throws a mid-90s fastball to go with a curveball, a change-up and a relatively new cutter that he developed last season, slowly began to understand he was trying to be too perfect with each location instead of rearing back and allowing his velocity and movement to do the work. It was costing him pitches and putting him in hitters' counts.
Since the beginning of May, Hentges has regained his form as one of the club's higher-ranked prospects. Beginning with his start on May 3, Hentges has posted a 3.63 ERA and pitched into at least the sixth inning six times.
"I think I was being too fine rather than just letting the ball rip and trusting my stuff and knowing that I'm better than the hitter and knowing I'm better than what the numbers have shown this year and how I've been pitching," Hentges said.
Hentges, who was profiled as a raw prospect after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft as a prep pitcher, also missed extended time after needing Tommy John elbow surgery in 2016.
"He's young, and he's younger as a pitcher than he is age-wise because of the injuries," RubberDucks pitching coach Tony Arnold said. "He's catching up and he's doing a heck of a job. He's going to be a better pitcher for having some struggles to start the year."
Aside from the mental adjustment, Hentges' use of the cutter has helped as well as a fourth pitch in his arsenal. Hentges has thrown thrown a mix of fastballs, curveballs and change-ups for several seasons. He knew either a cutter or a slider would come eventually, and midway through last season, he began working on a cutter to round out his pitching profile. In 2019, he's been able to use it more, and it's also led to an increased use in his change-up to keep hitters from zoning in on either his fastball or his curveball.
It's been one of the keys as he's worked through and now out of a rough patch.
"It was a collective decision with the coaches last year, the organization and myself to start adding it in because I wasn't throwing the change-up enough," Hentges said. "It's allowed for that four-pitch mix to be more effective."
RubberDucks outfielder Alex Call has been selected as the Eastern League Player of the Week.
Call, 24, batted .313 (10-for-32) with one double, one triple, three home runs, eight RBI, four runs scored, and a .688 slugging percentage in seven games for the RubberDucks last week.
"There have been a few things that have just kind of clicked," Call said. "I've been able to clear my mind and really get the pitches I want to hit. That's been the biggest focus, having a nice routine that puts me in a nice position to hit."
Call, who is hitting .257 with four homers and 14 RBI in 27 games with the RubberDucks this season, was acquired by the Indians in a trade with the Chicago White Sox on Dec, 15.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.