ATLANTA - Braves left-hander Mike Minor experienced a rough patch in the middle of this season, but his past two starts against a couple of solid offenses have shown encouraging signs.
Minor has struck out 14 over his past 13.2 innings spanning two starts against the Dodgers and Athletics. He struck out seven while allowing two runs on four hits against Oakland on Sunday night.
After Sunday's outing in front of a national audience, it seems Minor is no longer that hole in Atlanta's rotation every five days. He has made strides to improve fastball command, and it showed in both starts.
Minor threw 67 fastballs against the Athletics, 54 percent for strikes. That's not a high percentage for a fastball, but he established the pitch in big spots more often. He executed a plan with the pitch better, including being aggressive on the inner half against right-handed batters and working on eye levels when ahead in the count. It's not a typical game plan for a left-handed pitcher, but Minor seems to be going away from a fastball-changeup mindset to a fastball-cutter-curveball approach. Establishing the fastball inside is necessary for this plan to work.
"Bouncing back and forth and working up," Minor said of his approach. "Later in the counts, we worked fastballs up and changed eye levels. Curveballs later on in the dirt. It’s just combination of left and right, up and down."
The attached zone plot of his Sunday start shows Minor threw a cluster of fastballs to the inner half against right-handed batters (left side of square). Some of them leaked over the plate but were up in the zone to stay above batters' hands. Image 2 is a sixth-inning matchup against Josh Donaldson. Minor worked away, up and down before coming inside with a two-strike fastball, which he got the call. Image 3 is the next batter faced, Derek Norris, who he also struck out on an inside fastball after a similar approach. If Minor is to be successful with this type of game plan, he must sequence like this more often.
As the plot shows, Minor failed to command his slider/cutter effectively, leaving far too many over the plate. He said he began throwing the pitch to use as a backdoor option to the arm side, but it leaked over the plate more often than not. This needs to be cleaned up.
Minor's curveball was used mainly as a different look. He threw 18, nine were strikes and only one was whiffed. But he kept it down in the zone and didn't make mistakes with it, so it was successful for its purpose of changing eye levels.
It's been written Minor's arm slot is higher this year, and his fastball's movement has suffered as a result. I'd go further by saying his command of the pitch was equally horrid during his rough stretch. He left far too many belt-high fastballs over the heart. This has changed over the past two starts by working in and out, up and down. He is starting to establish the fastball inside with greater command and success, and that has made a big difference.