Friday, August 22, 2008

Brandon Erbe: In Control (ATH and Report)

Before the summer ends, I traveled to Frederick to see the Keys for My friend Michael Jaffe sent me to check out Brandon Erbe on Thursday, and we chose the right day. You can check out the article here. Hopefully I'll be checking out a few more games before seasons end.

Brandon Erbe: In Control

Brandon Erbe made a good first impression in his full season debut in 2006 leading to lofty expectations in what turned out to be a disappointing 2007. This year, Erbe is reaching those expectations, putting 2007 behind him. Inside, find out what has contributed to Erbe's turnaround.

Brandon Erbe, Baltimore’s 3rd Round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, had a disappointing 2007 despite the high expectations a solid full season debut in 2006 created. In his second year with Frederick, the 20-year-old has worked on his complimentary pitches and sharpened his mechanics, greatly improving from last season. In one year’s time, he has dropped his ERA from 6.26 in 2007 to 4.71 this season.

Thursday night, Erbe threw six shutout innings, notching six strikeouts in a 2-1 extra innings victory over the Lynchburg Hillcats. Though 97 pitches were thrown, only five runners reached base, two on walks, the fifth consecutive start Erbe has walked three or fewer batters.

Already armed with a powerful mid-90s fastball, a lot of the year has been spent working on refining Erbe’s other pitches, including his changeup, curveball, and slider. The Carolina League has solid fastball-hitting squads, giving Erbe the chance to work on the latter pitches.

“I’m gonna need my changeup in the future, and you really don’t get better with it unless you throw it, that’s what I did tonight,” Erbe said about tonight’s performance, “By the end of the game they were looking for changeups, looking for curveballs, so I threw a few sliders.”

Erbe said that today’s win “gives me confidence in my other pitches like my changeup and my slider, so I know I can throw them when I need to.”

Frederick pitching coach Blaine Beatty, who has worked with Erbe his entire time with the Keys, has been helping Erbe change his delivery while improving his pitches, and was very happy about Erbe’s performance Thursday night.

“Tonight when he went into the game, we wanted to establish the fact that this is a good fastball-hitting team, and he had to use all of his pitches, especially his changeup,” Beatty explained “That changeup was a key pitch tonight.”

In addition to improving command, a stress this season has been working on the slider and change. One stat that generally indicates an improved change is the batting average against for left-handed batters against right-handed pitchers, and vice versa. Erbe has limited lefties to a .236 average, more than 50 points lower than last year.

Though the ERA may seem high, Erbe has established solid control during the season. He leads the Keys with 142 strikeouts to only 47 walks in 143.2 IP, reducing his walks per nine innings to the lowest of his career, 3.06 BB/9 IP.

Coach Beatty isn’t worried about the high pitch-count. Erbe does have two complete games, the only ones Frederick has this season.

“That might be his M.O. for a while until he really settles in gets it doing with his new delivery.”

Though Erbe is improving, he knows he has work to do, but tonight was a good sign for the future.

“Tonight is what I kind of approach, I have to throw my off-speed stuff for a strike and be consistent around the zone. If I can keep guys off my fastball and guessing a little bit, that’s when success is going to come.”

There is no word on whether or not Erbe will pitch in the fall or winter for the Orioles. But for now, he’s focused on the remainder of the season, as the Keys are currently 4 games out of a playoff spot with 9 games remaining.

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