With each start at Bowman Field, Williamsport Crosscutters pitcher Mitch Gueller has shown off another part of his game which has vastly improved. And with just a month left in the New York-Penn League season, the right-hander is dangerously close to becoming the most improved player in the Philadelphia Phillies' system.
The Mitch Gueller who is 5-2 for the Crosscutters this year is nothing like the Mitch Gueller who went 3-8 in Williamsport a year ago. He's shown he's improved in his mental approach to the game, admitting he likely wasn't ready for the mental strains which come with pitching in professional baseball a year ago.
He's shown his ability to adapt as a pitcher, ditching an ineffective curveball for a slider that has become a swing-and-miss pitch. He's adjusted his mechanics in order to better command his fastball. And he's shown an ability to rise to the occasion, making his best pitches in high leverage situations to escape trouble.
So after Gueller's most recent stellar outing - five scoreless innings Sunday against Aberdeen - the only question left to ask is, what's next?
Pitching coach Aaron Fultz mentioned that he'd like to see Gueller show more stuff. And what Fultz, a former MLB pitcher, means he wants to see Gueller let loose. He wants to see him run his fastball up to the plate at 92-93 mph instead of the 90 mph he's averaged much of the year. He wants to see him really spin the slider and go to the next level with the pitch.
"I think first being comfortable with what I'm doing will allow me to let loose if I want to," Gueller said. "There's been a few games, hit and miss, where I've had all three pitches. It's not an all the time thing and that's a little frustrating. The consistency needs to come along. But I think Fultzy is pretty right and I need to let loose and let it go."
When Fultz first brought up the idea a couple weeks ago during batting practice, it wasn't long after Gueller was coming off a four-hit shutout against Auburn in the opener of an Independence Day doubleheader. And Fultz made the point that while he'd like to see more stuff, it was hard to convince a player who's having success to change his ways.
But Gueller is by no means a finished, or even close to finished, product. But he's clearly learned how to pitch and how to attack hitters. He's doing with a fastball that has been pretty good, but could be even better. He's doing it with a slider which is a work in progress, but has the potential of being a plus pitch.
So when it all comes together, the sky is the limit for a pitcher who was taken 54th overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
"I think at the beginning of the season here in Williamsport, I was coming off an injury and that hindered me a little bit," Gueller said. "And then it became trusting my arm, that it's good and it's healthy. I think the more comfortable and normal I feel with it, the more I'll be able to let loose."
FINDING HIS SWING
It's nitpicking, but trying to figure out which at-bat was more important to Cord Sandberg's development Monday night was difficult.
There was his first inning at-bat, the one where he laid down a perfect bunt, beat it out and advanced to second on a throwing error by Aberdeen pitcher Matthew Grimes. Then there was the sixth-inning at-bat where the left-handed hitter hit a frozen rope right at left fielder Federico Castagnini for an out.
Even though only one of the at-bats produced a baserunner for Williamsport, both were positive results. Sandberg's has been working for weeks on trying to get a bunt down the third-base, something to help him offset the troubles he's had finding consistent hits.
His bunt single Monday night led to the first of two first-inning runs for the Cutters. His line out to left field was just another sign that after a brutal July, the former third-round pick is starting to get his swing back.
"It's different every day. I'm doing everything the same, but something is going to make you feel different every day," Sandberg said. "I'm just trying to go up here and be consistent. I feel a bit better. I'm using my legs more and that's what I'm really working on. When I'm not using my legs, I'm bailing out and hitting balls off the end. I'm feeling a bit better, I'm just trying to slow down and get back into it."
Sandberg hit just .186 in July after .297 mark in June, which included a 12-game hitting streak to start the season. But since then, he's struggled to square up the fastballs which he routinely turned into hits in the first three weeks of the season.
The line out to left field showed off a swing which more consistently got to the fastball near the end of the homestand, and one which was willing to use the opposite field. And with just a month to go in the season and Sandberg back in the leadoff spot of the lineup, his ability to get hits and get on base will be crucial to the Cutters making a run at a playoff spot.
BACK ON TRACK
Maybe nobody on the Williamsport Crosscutters pitching staff needed a clean inning Monday more than reliever Bryan Sova. And the right-hander got just that when he pitched the ninth inning of the loss to Aberdeen.
Sova had allowed six runs (three earned) in his previous two outings before Monday's, ballooning his ERA from 1.26 to 2.76. While ERA is a terrible indicator of how well a reliever is pitching in such a short season in the New York-Penn League, it was telling in this case of a pair of rough outings.
Sova got back to basics Monday night, doing what he does best against the IronBirds, utilizing his slider to record a pair of strikeouts and a comebacker.
"I'm not walking guys. I'm not hitting guys," Sova said. "They were just getting hits. Hats off to those guys. I have to keep my approach, do me, throw strikes, keep the ball low, and hopefully get good results."
Sova isn't an overpowering out of the bullpen. His fastball from his sidearm delivery sits in the low 80s. So he has to be fine with his command, just like he was Monday.
"I'm a big slider pitcher. Lots of off-speed stuff for me," Sova said. "I've got to be a bit more fine and crafty."