HONOLULU—After five seasons in the minors, pitcher Kyle Bloom might be ready to, well, blossom.
The Pirates’ fifth-round pick from 2004 out of Illinois State has picked up where he left off at Double-A Altoona with an impressive showing for the West Oahu CaneFires of Hawaii Winter Baseball.
Entering the final week of HWB, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound lefthander is second in the league with a 1.50 earned run average. He is 2-0 with 32 strikeouts to 11 walks and has allowed just 15 hits in 30 innings from seven starts.
“Honestly, it’s just fastball command,” Bloom said. “A lot of these (the hitters) are from Class A ball, so they’re pretty aggressive on fastball. So what I usually try to do is initiate the inside part of the plate and then use my offspeed if I fall behind, kind of keep them honest. Mainly, it’s just moving my fastball in and out.”
Actually, he said his success has carried over from the second half of his season at Altoona. His final numbers were 5-8, 4.19. But after going winless April and May with ERAs of 8.15 and 4.15, respectively, his ERA improved the following months at 3.63 in June, 2.45 in July and 3.86 in August. His five wins came in the last two months.
“The first half, I just didn’t feel comfortable on the mound,” Bloom said. “Something in my mechanics wasn’t right. My pitching coach at Altoona, Brad Holman, really worked with me in terms of my mechanics. We really tried to get back to the basics. Probably about half way through the season, it really clicked.”
Altoona manager Tim Leiper (since let go by the organization) said in September that Holman and Bloom had worked to remove a pause in Bloom’s delivery. “We took the pause out and that helped his arm get through the zone freer and easier, and he was much better,” Leiper said.
At 25 and five pro seasons, Bloom is sort of the elder statement of the league. But he doesn’t mind. Not only does he get an extended stay in Hawaii, but he has another opportunity to show his capabilities.
“I was pleased,” he said about being assigned to HWB. “I’m an older guy out here, but any opportunity you have to play winter ball, you have to take advantage of it. They told me to keep doing what you’re doing as a starter. I was thrilled.”
His goal in HWB is to just continue what he did the second half of his season at Altoona.
“Be consistent, go out there, log innings, go deep into games, keep my fastball command,” he said. “Also, I want to work on my secondary stuff, changeup and curveball. But just pitch efficiently, try to go five innings, not throw so many pitches.”
While here, he has been able to take part in the usual tourist attractions: the beaches, Diamond Head hike and Pearl Harbor. As an eighth grader, he and his family visited, but only stayed on the Big Island and Maui. This is his first extended stay on Oahu and it was made a little special recently.
“My fiancí«e has been able to come over,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bloom remains optimistic about his future. As long as he continues to pitch the way he has, he will be tough to overlook. He was Rule 5 eligible last winter and will be again next month—the Pirates’ 40-man roster sat at 39, with Bloom still not added.
“You just gotta have confidence in yourself,” he said. “I know I’ve been always been able to do this. It’s more frustrating the fact that—probably
in the last year or two—I haven’t really done what I know I can. This year, I’m starting to get into my routine, getting my mechanics where I need to be. It’s refreshing knowing that all the hard work is starting to pay off.”
• The league championship is set for Nov. 16 at Les Murakami Stadium. The East champion will play the West champion.
• Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, a native of Maui, will be honored at a Nov. 15 HWB game at Murakami Stadium. Victorino signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Hawaii baseball team and was later offered a football scholarship by then-coach June Jones, who has since moved on to Southern Methodist. (He was a receiver at St. Anthony.) But Victorino ended up signing with the Dodgers, who drafted him in the sixth round in 1999.
• One pleasant surprise of HWB has been Sharks pitcher Kaimi Mead (Indians), who grew up on Oahu and was drafted out of Division II Hawaii Pacific University in the 18th round by the Indians in June. To help with depth issues, HWB sought permission to use players with ties to Hawaii who weren’t assigned to HWB by their respective teams. They were designated as “taxi squad” players and weren’t obligated by their managers to be used. But with pitching always an issue, the lefthanded Mead got more work than expected. He has made 13 relief appearances totaling 18 2/3 innings with a 1.45 ERA. He is 2 for 2 in save situations and has struck out 14 while walking eight.