Alex Meyer started for the visiting Rochester Red Wings last night against the Louisville Bats at Louisville Slugger Stadium located on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. I was fortunate enough to be in the area with my travel schedule, and when I saw that Meyer was the scheduled starter, I surmised this might be the only chance to see Big Unit 2.0 pitch in 2014 and the decision became an easy one.
As they say, it was a great night for baseball, temperature in the low 90s, with a gentle SW breeze blowing left to right across the beautiful LSS stadium, which affords both full downtown skyline views as well as glimpses of two rugged steel bridges that span the Ohio River, as well as the State of Indiana just across the waterway. For those of you not familiar with the ballpark, it first opened in 2000, and the baseball bat maker, Hillerich and Bradsby, bought the naming rights- the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, as well as The Yum! Center, The Muhammad Ali Center and Stevie Ray's Blues Bar are just a few blocks west down Main Street. The park entrance is just a few steps from the Main Street curb, and first viewing promises a rich experience with its all-brick-and-iron facade (the building front area is a restored 19th Century train shed). Statues of Louisville natives Pee Wee Reese and Paul Hornung are located at opposite entrances to the stadium, as well as a streetside mini-brewery and sidewalk cafe seating. Once inside the park, one quickly notices the wide and 360 degree continuous concourse, all of the wonderful amenities standard in a modern ballpark, plus along with the stunning panoramic view of the park confines. They even have a row of small pine trees directly in front of the CF batters eye. Needless to say, quite an impressive AAA park, one I would strongly recommend if you are in the area.
Although we had seats behind home plate, my family and I were free to roam anywhere in the park. And of course, during Meyer's pregame warm-up routine, about two dozen Twins fans congregated near the Red Wing right field line bullpen to get an up close and personal look at Alex Meyer taking his warmup throws, practically from an arms-length distance. Under the very watchful eyes of Wing trainer, Larry Bennese, Meyer went through his routine, throwing to Josmil Pinto. Meyer obviously maintains a commanding presence, as he slowly worked his way up from easy, to intense, in his approach. One immediate red flag I noted was how flat the FB looked, and the second was the lack of big movement on the 90MPH+ new 3-finger change. It's supposed to have some new and improved "nice run and sink", I made a mental note to watch for the pitch motion during the game. It looks like he might be tipping that pitch a bit, as well. But on the plus side, Meyer maintained an easy motion, even as he heated up all the way to game-ready....and he appeared to be focusing on repetitive mechanics...and most importantly, he showed absolutely no signs of discomfort or favoring of his shoulder in any way.
Meyer started out with a very efficient first inning. In 13 pitches, he threw 9 strikes, although he fell behind the first two batters with breaking balls out of the zone. He hit 97 on the gun frequently, but got his first swinging strikeout on a nasty slider, 1-2 in the count, darting out of the zone. The other two outs were a weakly hit fly ball and ground ball.
Meyer's second inning was likely indicative of why the Twins are proceeding so slowly with the pitcher. As good as his delivery looked in the 1st inning, in the 2nd, it all turned a little sloppy. 21 pitches thrown in the inning, of which 10 were balls. After getting the first Louisville batter out on a ground ball after 2 pitches, Meyer continued throwing mostly 97 MPH fast balls, but continually missed badly in a 5 pitch walk to the next "Bat" up. The next man hit a ground ball single on yet another 97 MPH fastball. With two runners now on, Pino paid a visit to the mound, the next man worked the count to 3-1 (one of only 4 PAs that resulted in 3 or more balls in the count) before Meyer coaxed a pop up out out of his slider. Finally, with an assortment of all of his pitches, Meyer worked out of the jam with a 6-pitch ground ball out to end the 2nd.
Meyer made the necessary mental corrections for the 3rd inning. His form had returned to his first inning smoothness, and he noticeably looked like he had shifted a gear in intensity, as well. He threw 6 pitches, all strikes, getting two ground balls and striking out another with two consecutive change ups taken for strikes. Meyer continued looking like a man amongst boys in the 4th. After getting another swinging K on the changeup...he opened up with the second batter in the inning with a devastating 99 MPH fast ball, his first of the game, followed in succession with another strike at 98, again. On a 1-2 pitch, the Louisville batter meekly flied to Danny Ortiz on an 82 MPH slider. For the last man in the 4th, Meyer quickly got ahead, 0-2 with 97 MPH fastballs, and relied on a series of sliders and changes fouled off, before getting the third out on a swinging strike at a slider in the dirt. 18 pitches in the inning, of which 13 were strikes, and now my pre-game concerns were being answered, as we were seeing some really good movement in the breaking pitches that was resulting in keeping the batters guessing and in survival mode, with a series of weak foul balls..
Meyer continued throwing a succssion of 98 MPH heaters in the 5th, while toying with trying to get more command on his breaking pitches for an out pitch. After striking out the first batter swinging on a 98 special, he lost the next batter on 3 straight poorly thrown breakers. Not to be dissuaded, Meyer went right after the next man- 2 more devastating 98 MPHers, and then two sliders, the second of which resulted in a weak flailing attempt and Meyer's 6th K of the day. A weak 6-4 ground out on yet another 98 FB ended the inning.
After 5 innings, Meyer now sat at 73 pitches with 48 strikes and 6 Ks. He was sailing through the Louisville lineup, riding on a 4-0 Rochester lead, and having given up only one hit, and only one hard hit ball. However, it was clear that he wasn't gong to be around long, as AJ Achter was warming in the pen as Meyer's 6th inning began. After the leadoff man hit a ground ball single back through the middle, Meyer again got a K looking, on the change up. One out now, and Meyer opened up the next man with a change and two sliders, all for balls. Meyer then threw a 99 MPH fastball that appeared to be right down the middle, but the umpire called it Ball Four- still throwing nearly 100 MPH with his pitch count in the 80s!. Meyer now had runners on 1 and 2 with one out. He then went 98 FB, 83 SL (ball), 98 FB and then 81 SL in the dirt for a swinging Strike 3- and he recorded his 8th K in 5.2 innings. Although looking completely in command of the game, he had just crossed the 90-pitch threshold, thus giving way for AJ Achter. And then Achter promptly walked the next man to load the bases, which was followed by a mix-up in communication between Achter and Pinto, resulting in a Wild Pitch and a run scored. After a two-run double, the inning was over, but with the score now 4-3.
As we can see, although Meyer was charged with 2 ERs, it was not an accurate reflection of how truly dominant his performance actually was. To reiterate, in the 5.2 IP, he struck out 8, walked 3, and gave up only 2 ground ball hits. He had his highest swinging strike ratio of the year, at just under 23%, 55% GB rate, and again, only 2 LD in 22 batters faced. I don't think I can overstate the point that this performance last night looked more like a training exercise on Meyer's part than a competitive game while he was pitching- it just looked that easy for him. Over his last seven starts, Meyer has posted a 1.77 ERA in 40.2 IP, with a 1.06 WHIP, 10 K/9, 28.1 K%.... while limiting opposing hitters to a .159 batting average.
The conclusion I came to is that the reports of his progress are accurate, Meyer appears to be fully healthy and it's very easy to ascertain- he's utterly unafraid to air it all out whenever he feels the need. He is working hard on improving his command, especially with the change, and that, along with the innings and pitch count limitations, are what's keeping Meyer from pitching for the Twins. After Sunday's game, I feel my previous opinion that Meyer is too advanced for AAA hitters has been confirmed. The only question still up for debate is: where would Meyer's next step in development best be served?...AAA or with the Twins? My vote is he would be pitching this Saturday in the open starting slot against Samardzija and the Oakland A's, but of course the Twins will want Meyer's first appearance to be at Target Field. I will remain skeptical, but hopeful, that with Meyer now at 112 IP, his remaining 28 innings or so will be after a call-up to the big club for the Big Unit 2.0 on the next homestand....perhaps Monday, August 18 vs. Kansas City, which would line up nicely with his current schedule.
Edited by jokin, 05 August 2014 - 01:12 PM.