Right-hander Brandon Erbe pitched seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball for Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday as he continues to improve his stats after his first four starts.
The 22-year-old began the year with an ERA of 8.35 after four starts. But his ERA is 3.37 over his last three starts for Norfolk.
"I tried not to pay too much attention to the numbers, but rather the way I was pitching. Even early on, I would throw three straight scoreless than just one inning things didn't work out. The runs have come in chunks this year. Last year, I was able to limit the damage and make pitches when I had to," Erbe said by phone Thursday night from Buffalo where the Tides play tonight.
"I've never gotten down on myself. Today helps a lot. I've been playing professionally for five years now and know you have to take the highs and the lows the same. When the game is over, you move on and build on it. This is not the first year I've had some struggles. It's easier to handle when you know you can bounce back."
Over those last three starts, the Baltimorean has allowed 16 hits and seven earned runs in 18 2/3 with an opponent batting average of just .225. Three starts ago Erbe allowed just one run and Thursday he blanked Syracuse in a 2-1 Tides loss.
His off-speed pitch has now become a pitch he will not hesitate to use.
"I'm really happy with my changeup. It's a pitch I didn't experiment with too much before last year. It was a run of the mill pitch, but now it's even better than my slider. I trusted it today (Thursday) more than my slider.
"I feel and so do our coaches that the better the hitter, the more effective a changeup is. I need to throw it consistently and was able to do it today.
"To start in the big leagues, you need to have three pitches you can throw for strikes. The changeup and the slider were pitches I knew I could throw before but didn't have the confidence in them to throw at any time. But I am getting to that point now. That's a good feeling."
Erbe said last season with Bowie he might have thrown just five or six changeups per game. He estimates he threw 15 to 20 on Thursday vs. Syracuse.
His fastball velocity has been sitting between 90 and 94, but the gun readings don't impress him.
"As I've seen, the velocity doesn't matter. It's all about location. No matter how hard you throw, if you don't have other pitches, they'll just key on that fastball. My fastball has been better recently due to the improved changeup.
"In high school and with scouting when you're trying to get noticed, velocity is a big part of it. Those power numbers are a good gauge for scouting, but in the pro game, everyone I've pitched against can hit a fastball. You sacrifice a bit of velocity for movement.
"It's nice, if you have to, to be able to reach back for a little extra. Say if a hitter is struggling with the fastball or it's a 0-2 count, you can try to blow a fastball by a guy high in the zone. But for the most part, you want outs early in the count and to use as few pitches as possible."
Erbe, a third-round draft pick in 2005, has noticed a difference between ball at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
"There is a difference here just in the way the game is played. This year, the hitters are more disciplined and just better overall hitters. There may be more highly-touted guys in Double-A, but in Triple-A you have guys that have been around and know the game.
"It's constantly a game of adjustments. You have to adjust on the fly. Every pitch is a constant battle and it's great experience because it will get even harder at the Major League level."