Rays' Nick Barnese Works Off Fastball In Low Class A

GREENSBORO, N.C.—For the second consecutive season, Rays righthander Nick Barnese began the season in extended spring training.

Barnese, 19, came into spring training with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, which took longer than he expected to heal and kept him from joining low Class A Bowling Green for the first two months of the season.

Now with 15 starts under his belt for the Hot Rods, Barnese showed an above-average fastball and flashes of a rapidly-improving changeup. In a game at Greensboro on Monday, Aug. 17, he held the Grasshoppers to two runs in five innings, struck out five and walked two. His season ERA sits at 2.53 after 74 2/3 innings, with 62 strikeouts and 25 walks.

Barnese's bread-and-butter pitch on Monday was a fastball that sat in the low-90s, ranging from 89-93 mph and running in on the hands of righthanded hitters.

"For me, he's one of the best young pitchers I have ever seen or coached who commits to his fastball," Hot Rods pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein said. "He is never afraid to throw his fastball. I have seen young pitchers through my years where, if they give up hits on the fastball, a lot of times they try to go to the breaking ball, they try to go to the changeup. He is really aware of executing it, and when he doesn't execute it and gives up a hit, he just tries to execute it better. But he commits to his fastball as good as any young pitcher I've seen."

Barnese said he didn't have a changeup when the Rays drafted him as a third-round pick from Simi Valley (Calif.) High in 2007, yet the pitch showed promise on Monday. Barnese delivered his changeup at 80-82 mph, generating three swings and misses in the first inning alone.

"His changeup is really good," Lichtenstein said. "When he gets on top of it, it's got some good sink and he commits to it, it looks like a fastball. He has the confidence to throw it in any count; he's not afraid to throw it. He has an uncanny ability for a young pitcher to commit to whatever pitch he's about to throw and throw it with confidence that he knows that's the right one. He doesn't guide the ball, he's not afraid, and if he doesn't execute, so be it. It doesn't faze him.

"So that, with the changeup, it's good to see that he understands that the way to develop the pitch is to commit to throwing it, (then) throw it and let's see what happens. Based on that, you get good results. When you're trying to get good results, it usually doesn't happen. But when you just relax and throw the ball and take care of the process, the results take care of themselves."

Barnese's 77-81 mph curveball elicited a couple of swings and misses, including swinging strikeouts against shortstop Smelin Perez in the third inning and first baseman Ben Lasater in the fourth, but one scout said it was an average pitch with inconsistent break.

"It's off and on a lot," Barnese said. "It was OK tonight. It wasn't my best hook, but I just battled through it."

"Early in the year his arm angle had dropped a little bit and his curveball was sweeping a little bit, moving side to side instead of top to bottom," Lichtenstein said. "We were able to get his arm up a little higher and his release point a little bit more consistent, and now the depth has been a lot more consistent his last three or four starts. And once again, he wants it to be sharper—which of course, that's what you want as a pitcher, you want it always to be a great pitch—but when he needs it, when he needs to throw that real good one, he goes in his back pocket, takes it out and there it is."

Barnese showed a quick pick-off move and good athleticism, but he has an unusual, slow-tempo delivery, bringing his hands above his head before finally delivering the ball.

"I've always had that same delivery over the head," Barnese said. "A lot of guys don't do that any more—I don't know why. It's slow back and then explodes at the end. I think it builds a little bit of deception and it jumps on them."

Barnese throws from a three-quarters to high-three quarters arm slot, and while Lichtenstein said he'll occasionally drop down lower to get tilted and drive the ball side to side, the Rays want him to be more consistently on top of the baseball.

"His windup kind of lulls you to sleep and then the ball's on you," he said. "But the reason I believe his windup has to be a little bit slower than maybe some others is because he gets his hands over his head and the parts are moving in different directions, but because it's so slow, he's able to collect himself over the rubber and still get the timing to be consistent with when the ball gets going and being able to get to that extension with his pitches.

"It's a little different, but he repeats it well, and as far as I'm concerned, keep doing it until it doesn't work for you. The few things we've talked about are just being able to be consistent with the timing of getting the ball out and being able to execute pitches down in the zone."