Memo to minor league pitchers: When you throw, keep it low

In the minor leagues, the Orioles want their pitchers to develop consistent and repeatable mechanics and deliveries. They prefer they have a good fastball and changeup combination along with a breaking pitch, and they really want their pitchers to work hard on pitching down in the strike zone.

Sounds like good advice. It makes sense that it is easier for a batter to drive a ball that is elevated over one that is down in the strike zone or even low and out of the strike zone.

If you watch O’s minor league pitchers throw bullpen sessions, you notice they are sometimes pitching with a string that runs across the plate and is at a point that would be just below the knees for many hitters.

O’s director of pitching development Rick Peterson calls that the .193 line.

Peterson points Sarasota wide.jpg“Last year, all the balls put in play at the bottom of the strike zone in the big leagues, the batting average was .193. If you pitch down in the zone, you’ll do well,” Peterson said. “It’s a major point of emphasis.”

The string is usually positioned at what would be the front of the plate looking in from the mound.

“We use that to see, are you at the .193 line or below it?” Peterson explains. “When you look at pitches that go below that, you see how batters swing at the ball. At 40 feet, that is when batters decide if they are swinging. If you throw a pitch four inches below the knee you will get a lot of swings at those.”

Peterson makes the point that many hitters have such good strike zone judgement that they won’t often chase pitches off the plate on the inside or outside corners. But if the pitch is over the plate, but just a little low, hitters will often offer at that. So shoot for the .193 line or lower and you can get some positive results.

Peterson, along with some very solid pitching coaches on the O’s farm, have seen progress in his second season in his current position.

“Wherever I am watching the games and checking the game reports, I see base on balls are down, ground balls are up, strike ratios are up, pitching ahead in the count is up,” Peterson said. “Our pitching coaches have done an outstanding job of understanding what the pitching program is about and implementing it at a high level.

“Last year, every team I spent time with it was about deliveries, deliveries, deliveries. That was the first step. This year it’s about pitching, pitching, pitching. How to control the running game, how to utilize your stuff more effectively, knowing your recipe for success.”

A key ingredient in the recipe is the ability to pitch to the .193 line.

Playoff outlook: With the minor league regular season set to end in early September, the Orioles have several affiliates still contending for a playoff spot.

Triple-A Norfolk lost 5-0 to Rochester last night and is 64-59. Norfolk is tied with Buffalo for the International League’s wild card berth. After a win yesterday, Double-A Bowie is 60-59 and three games out of second place in its division. The top two clubs will make the playoffs.

Even with a record of 20-27 in the second half, the Single-A Frederick Keys are in the playoff hunt. With Potomac on its way to winning both halves in that division, the second-place team in the second half will make the Carolina League playoffs. Right now, Frederick is tied for second but three teams are within a half-game of that spot.

Short-season Single-A Aberdeen lost 7-3 to Batavia on Sunday to fall to 26-24. But Aberdeen leads its division by one game over Brooklyn and 1 1/2 games over Hudson Valley in a close race. The IronBirds are trying to make the playoffs for the first time ever.

The Orioles’ Gulf Coast League team is 23-21 and in second place in its division, two games behind the GCL Red Sox for a playoff berth.

The last few weeks should be exciting as those five teams chase playoff berths and the Orioles could get anywhere from zero to five teams in the minor league playoffs.

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