Making good use of between starts prep, Carlos Tavera having big year for Aberdeen

ABERDEEN, Md. - High Single-A Aberdeen pitcher Carlos Tavera was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Month for May, a period where he allowed just one run over four starts. But when I interviewed him recently, it was the outing after that month was over that was gnawing at him and bothering him big time. He was a ticked off pitcher and one that was not dealing well with giving up seven runs in 2 1/3 innings on June 1 versus Hudson Valley.

And when he was back on the mound last Wednesday at Brooklyn, he took it out on that night’s opponent. Tavera got back on the horse in a big way, throwing six scoreless on one hit with two walks and eight strikeouts.

That lingering bad taste was washed away in his latest night of strong pitching.

During our interview I asked Tavera why he was so dominant in May, allowing the one run on just six hits over 18 1/3 innings? He fanned 26 and walked just five with an 0.60 WHIP. But his thoughts then were more on that start that would follow those others.

“It was good, unfortunately that roll ended my last outing,” he said at Ripken Stadium. “I felt like I was in a good spot and how my pitches were. Had everything working and was really getting ahead and going after guys. It was a nice month. But I had a bad taste after this last outing and plan on getting rolling again here. When something like that happens, I’m not happy for quite a few days.”

But he is back rolling after that most recent game which leaves him at 2-2 with a 3.73 ERA in 10 games for an Aberdeen rotation and pitching staff that has been a big reason for the club’s outstanding start to this year. Over 41 innings, Tavera has allowed 28 hits with 18 walks, 53 strikeouts, a .188 batting average against and 1.12 WHIP.

He was the only pitcher the Orioles drafted in the first 10 rounds of last year’s draft, taking the 23-year-old right-hander out of Texas-Arlington. He was selected in round five, No. 137 overall. After the draft he pitched to an ERA of 2.25 in 12 innings with low Single-A Delmarva.

“It started with the offseason. Going to Delmarva was a good experience, a good taste of pro ball. Glad I got to do that and in the offseason I knew what to prepare for. The rest between starts is different from college and I now know what to prepare for and that helps,” he said.

And those days between starts are big for Tavera he said, especially when he throws each bullpen session, three days after the preceeding start. That is when he said he makes adjustments, tweaks and does the work that eventually leads to positive in-game results.

“We have a really good pitching coach here with Forrest (Herrmann). He really makes us get after it in our bullpens. It’s not just throwing. We are really working on things like tigthening up our spin. It’s not full intensity but close to it. Probably 20 pitches max.”

The data and high-speed cameras are tracking every bullpen offering to provide pitchers instant feedback. Tavera said he has soaked up the information to the point where he will now know his spin rate on a pitch before he checks the data to know for sure.

“He really challenges us with our bullpens. Even after good outings, reminding us we can get this pitch better or something like that. It is almost like bullpens are games and we are always trying to get better. He is extremely smart and just a really good guy,” he said of his bond with Herrmann.

That all led Tavera into May where he rolled through four starts.

“During that month I would say I leaned on my changeup heavily,” he said. “And I would throw it in any count and to lefties and righties. Really has been my strikeout pitch. But I still get strikeouts with my fastball and slider. Just being able to mix all three helps have the hitter unbalanced.

“We try to not be predictable. These hitters are good, so you have to have a good mix with three or four pitches. During the game you may feel you have one pitch going more than another and lean on that pitch more.”

Tavera's fastball often sits between 93 and 95 mph and his changeup ranges from 83 to 86 mph. He feels the speed difference is less significant than the late movement he gets down and away from a lefty batter. 

Tavera said he has made good use of scouting reports the pitchers get. They are very thorough and point out zones where specific hitters pitchers will face that night will struggle. The Orioles are trying to make the scouting process pitchers see on the farm similar to what they would see were they pitching at Camden Yards that night.

But Tavera said the data now available to him has been big and opened up a new world for his pitching, so to speak.

“It’s incredible. I went to a small mid major and we were just throwing bullpens to throw them. Now it’s like we know what kind of spin we are trying to get. We get instant feedback, know what it feels like and we can try and repeat that. I am trying to get the feel for what a good pitch will feel like. The ultimate goal is to get to the major leagues and we are really trying to hone in on the craft here."

In Aberdeen he is excited to be part of a pitching staff that has put up such solid numbers. The IronBirds are fourth in their league in team ERA at 3.71 and sixth in starter ERA at 3.73.

“It’s a very slept on staff with some guys that don’t get talked about a lot,” he said. “Even our bullpen, in tight games we don’t panic. Really excited to be part of this staff. I’m really excited to be in this organization with the pitch development and how they treat their players. Really glad I got drafted by them.”

When I asked Tavera recently about his goals for the rest of the season, he paused and was not sure how to answer. It seemed to be because he was looking back not ahead. At the outing that bothered him and one he wanted to move past. A few days after our interview, he did just that in a big way.

“I’m not sure. After this last outing, I just want to get back out there. The month of May was really good for me but I really want to continue that. It was a cool honor to get, but I just want to be consistent,” he said.

Gaining momentum in Kansas City: The Orioles won the last two games of their series at Kauffman Stadium to split that series with Kansas City. They scored 16 runs on 25 hits, hitting four homers on Saturday and Sunday in those wins.

They improved to 26-35 for the season and to 5-4 in their last nine road games with Sunday's win. They are 12-11 the last 23 games and 5-5 this month. The O's went 7-14 in April, and are 19-21 over the last 40 games since the calendar turned to May.

Now we find out if that momentum can carry into Rogers Centre and their first meeting this season with the Toronto Blue Jays. The four-game series begins tonight.

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