GOODYEAR, Ariz. — At a time when the nation’s midsection is digging out from snow and ice, you would assume that Indians righthander Frank Herrmann would be happy to be among palm trees, sunshine and 85-degree weather.
Instead, the guy is talking crazy. He can’t wait to head north and pitch in football-like weather, if it’s that nice.
“I’m not sure if I’ll go to Akron or Columbus … but it’s going to be cold wherever I am,” Herrmann said of Cleveland’s Double-A and Triple-A clubs, sounding an upbeat tone. “But I’m from New Jersey and played in Massachusetts in college. So I try to use it as an advantage.”
Some might say he pitches well regardless.
Nevertheless, an Ivy League grad who earned an economics degree from Harvard, Herrmann is eager to do as much damage this season as he did a year ago when the 6-foot-4, 200-pound righthander dominated at Akron.
His Eastern League tour culminated in a line of 11-6, 4.10 in 131 2/3 innings and included 86 strikeouts and only 36 walks. The Indians also had him make two midseason starts in Triple-A, and he struck out 14 in 13 innings.
Not bad for a pitcher not drafted after his final collegiate season, and certainly not bad considering Herrmann did not have the baseball tutelage that many of his colleagues enjoyed as amateurs. Overall, he is 26-19, 4.02 with 281 strikeouts and 118 walks in 418 1/3 innings since entering pro ball in 2006.
“I like the distribution of his pitches,” Indians pitching coordinator Dave Miller said. “He’s got a solid three-pitch mix now and he’s learning how to use his stuff. He was green coming out of college and to Frank’s credit he’s refined his pitches.”
Fueling Herrmann for the 2009 season are the experience of last year’s Eastern League playoffs and a new sense of confidence in his slider. Akron lost to Trenton (Yankees) in the Eastern League finals but bounced Matt Wieters-led Bowie (Orioles)—with a little help from Travis Hafner, who was down on an injury rehab assignment.
“We were pouring beer over Hafner’s head and I was thinking, ‘I don’t care. I may never get to do this in my life,’” Hermann said.
Fast forward to this spring. He’s tightened the slider and remains confident in his sinker.
“I tightened up my slider and I gained some velocity,” Herrmann said. “I think the biggest thing is confidence. You want to go out and attack hitters a little more instead of nibbling.”
Which is why pitching in cold weather is so appealing.
“Guys don’t want it in on their hands,” he said. “So I think I can make (the cold) a positive.”
Righthander Hector Rondon, who struck out 145 in 145 innings at high Class A Kinston last season, threw 4 2/3 innings against Double-A Huntsville on Saturday.
While he worked in the low 90s with his fastball, spotting it well after some early scuffling, Rondon showed off a potentially new weapon, his changeup. Throughout his session, he let it loose just as he did his fastball, not slowing his mid three-quarters delivery.
“He looked great,” Miller said. “We always stress our guys to use the changeup, and he really did a good job of that today.”
IN THE HOUSE
Lefthander T.J. House, a 16th-round pick last June from Picayune, Miss., is likely headed to low Class A Lake County. He signed for $750,000, or second-round money, but did not pitch because he signed so late.
He’s had his low-90s fastball on display this spring.
“He’s advanced for his age,” Miller said. “He’s got a good feel throwing his fastball to both sides of the plate. He’s also picked up a changeup and his slider is coming along.”
Another 2008 draft pick, second-rounder Trey Haley, has impressed coaches this spring.
Haley, a 6-foot-3, 180-pounder from Nacodoches, Texas, was expected to play for Rice before being wooed by a $1.25 million bonus. He pitched all of two innings last year and has been working with the Lake County group, although Miller indicated the righthander won’t necessarily break camp with that group.
“Trey’s doing a really good job of getting an understanding of how his body and mechanics,” Miller said. “He can get it up to 95, but he doesn’t need to get it up to 95 all the time. If he can pitch down, he’s efficient.”