CHARLESTON, S.C.--Just looking at Saturday’s box score, it would be easy to think that Adonis Medina coasted to another strong start in what has been an excellent season. The Lakewood righthander allowed just one run over seven innings and struck out five in his team’s series-opening win over Charleston.
Pretty straightforward, right?
What you don’t see in the box score, however, is the line drive in the second inning that nearly struck Medina in the face. Instead, Medina got his hand up just in time to deflect the ball before potential disaster, and even recovered in enough time to get the out at first base.
Still, a line drive to the pitching hand is obviously a serious injury, and it looked initially like Medina would leave the game. His first two test pitches in front of his coaching staff and trainer sailed high and wide, seemingly an indicator that he had lost feel for the ball.
The next few pitches, however, were down in the zone enough to convince his coaches that he could stay on the mound. The next man to face Medina singled, but the righthander recovered to get the next two Charleston hitters to fly out.
Five innings later, it was like nothing had happened. He continued utilizing all four of his pitches to flummox hitters just the same way as he has all season long.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of Medina’s year has been his emergence as a strikeout artist.
Last year at short-season Williamsport, with the same arsenal of pitches, he whiffed just 34 in 64.2 innings. In his first three seasons, which included stops in the Dominican Summer League and the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he struck out 91 in 136.2 innings.
This season he’s whiffed 103 in 88.1 innings. So, what’s changed?
“He’s got that moving fastball, so he was probably getting outs early in the count with sinkers and things like that,” Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney said. “Now, with better hitters going deeper into counts he’s able to use his putaway pitches, which can be any one of three, with his fastball, his changeup or his slider.”
On Saturday, Medina’s fastball featured excellent sink, sat in the mid 90s and routinely found 96-97 mph as well. He threw in a heavy dose of mid-80s changeups, low-80s sliders and big-breaking curveballs in the high-70s.
But the most important thing for Medina was that he commanded his pitches. The Phillies have worked with Medina to tweak his delivery to incorporate his legs more instead of rearing back and throwing with his upper body.
“We’ve been working on the lower half and also they want to connect my back foot to the dirt longer,” Medina said, with the help of hitting coach Nelson Prada translating. “I used to lift it up too fast, and if I’m releasing too fast and get on my front foot, I lose my release point. Now, when I’m keeping the back foot more on the ground I can have a better base and throw better.”
It’s important that Medina can strike out hitters when he needs to, but getting grounders and letting his defense work behind him also helps him keep his pitch count low so he can work deeper into games. If he can utilize both of those approaches, it will dramatically increase his ability to realize his potential as a major league rotation piece.
“Today he got a lot of outs early in the count. He was pitching efficient for seven innings,” Sweeney said. “He was 14 pitches or less (each inning) for the whole outing, which is incredible. That’s what we teach. If you can do that, you’re putting us in a good place to win a ballgame.”
Even after an early scare, Medina re-grouped and did exactly that.
NEWS AND NOTES
• RiverDogs starter Rony Garcia was intriguing if not overwhelming on Saturday in his fourth start at low Class A in his first full season as pro. He worked primarily 92-94 mph range with his fastball and touched 95 on occasion. The pitch could use a bit more life to increase its efficacy. He also utilized a high-80s changeup and low-80s breaking ball to keep the BlueClaws off-balance.
• Charleston outfielder Estevan Florial collected three hits, including two infield singles and an opposite-field double against a 94 mph fastball from Medina.
• BlueClaws outfielder Mickey Moniak left the game after just one at-bat with what appeared to be a reaction to the intense heat. He was coaching first base later in the game.