Luis Patiño Learns To Harness His 'Venom' As He Climbs Padres System
When Luis Patiño arrived at high Class A Lake Elsinore in April, he was a power-armed righthander with an explosive fastball and a wipeout slider.
He quickly learned that wasn’t enough. He issued 14 walks in his first 18 innings and averaged just three innings per start through the first month of the season.
“I used a term back when I had him two years ago in the AZL,” Lake Elsinore pitching coach Pete Zamora said. “Baby rattlesnake. He had all this venom, but sometimes he doesn’t know quite how to use it.
"When he gets put in a corner, he tried to just go with every bit of power he has and not necessarily worry about executing or getting people out . . . When you get to these next levels, these guys are good enough where they’ll wait you out and they’ll take ball four all day long. He had to learn, instead of trying to fight his way out, he had to execute his way out.”
Patiño took that message to heart. As such, he is on to the next level.
The Padres promoted Patiño, their No. 3 prospect, to Double-A Amarillo last week. As the youngest pitcher in the California League on Opening Day, the 19-year-old Colombian wrapped up his Lake Elsinore stint 6-8, 2.69 with 113 strikeouts and 35 walks in 87 innings.
As much as his overall numbers, Patiño's improvement over the course of the season stands out.
In his first eight starts, Patiño had a 3.50 ERA and averaged 5.0 walks per nine innings. Over his final 10 appearances, he had a 2.12 ERA and walked just 2.5 batters per nine innings.
“Now, I’m not throwing balls, I’m pitching balls,” Patiño said. “When I was younger, I just took pride in throwing hard. Right now, my mentality is more like, ‘Throw it around the zone and get out of the inning for my teammates.’”
Patiño displayed his development on that front in his final Cal League start on Aug. 6. After dominating San Jose for two innings on the strength of his 95-97 mph fastball, Patiño began getting squeezed by the home plate umpire in the third inning. Two runs came across as a result.
The first run scored when Patiño threw a wild pitch with a runner on third base. The second scored when he instinctively reached for a comebacker but ended up deflecting the potential inning-ending ground ball into right field for a single.
With two on and two out, frustration mounting and the game potentially about to break open, Patiño settled down in the high-pressure spot. He quickly got ahead of San Jose outfielder Courtney Hawkins, 0-2, and struck him out looking with a well-placed fastball to escape the inning.
“If that happened in April he may not get out of that inning, because he wouldn’t have gone out of his own way to make pitches even though the umpire was squeezing him,” Zamora said. “We tell him, ‘Yes, he is squeezing you, but there’s a certain way to get out of this. You have to control damage. Getting out of here with only one run scored, that’s the key. Don’t worry about shutting out the world the rest of your life.’
“To go six or seven innings you have to have some damage control. Early on, damage control wasn’t part of his game. It was, ‘I want to strike everybody out.’”
With that understanding, Patiño has begun lasting longer in games.
He completed six innings just twice in his first 35 career starts. Now, he’s pitched at least six innings in seven of his last 12 starts.
“I know I throw a hard, it’s not about focusing on my velo,” Patiño said. “It’s about commanding my fastball and commanding all my pitches in the strike zone. Because when you throw it around the zone, you’re going to have more opportunities to get the hitters out. That’s what's in my mind right now, be more like a pitcher.”
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Developing an effective third pitch further helped Patiño achieve that goal. His changeup entered the year a work in progress, but over the course of the season it increasingly began to flash plus potential. What used to be only a chase pitch became another offering he could land in the strike zone.
“I have a lot of confidence right now with that pitch,” Patiño said of his changeup. “In spring training and early this season that was a challenge for me, throwing the changeup for strikes. It was just working every single day on the mound, doing my throwing program, (and) now I feel pretty good with that.”
The final sum is a better Patiño than ever before. He has three pitches at his disposal, learned to harness his power and made the mental adjustments needed to pitch deeper into games, all as a precocious teenager still just 19 years old.
As he moves on to Double-A, Patiño is no longer a baby rattlesnake. He’s a pitcher beyond his years with the best still to come.
“Once he bought in, with that talent and that enthusiasm, the sky was the limit for him,” Zamora said. “I think we’re seeing it flourish now.”