Beavan adding depth to slider

FRISCO, Texas - At just 20 years of age, pitcher Blake Beavan is already pitching with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. The Irving native has mixed results thus far, but he finished strong in Bakersfield. Lone Star Dugout talks with the former first-round pick about his progress on the hill.

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With his recent promotion to Double-A Frisco, Blake Beavan continues to quickly progress through the Rangers' minor league system.

The Irving native began his professional career with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings last season, posting a 2.37 earned-run average in 121.2 innings. He surrendered just 105 hits, walked only 20 and struck out 73 batters.

Beavan progressed to High-A Bakersfield of the hitter-friendly California League to begin the 2009 season. The right-hander got off to a slow start, putting up a 7.88 ERA in his first five starts.

Then, suddenly, something clicked. Beavan tossed a complete game gem against the San Jose Giants, yielding zero earned runs on four hits and one walk. The 20-year-old became a workhorse, pitching at least six innings and allowing no more than three earned runs over his last seven starts with the Blaze.

During that seven start span, Beavan held a 2.55 ERA in 49.1 innings, allowing 44 hits while walking 10 and striking out 30.

The Rangers gave Beavan push, aggressively promoting him to Double-A Frisco during the second week of June. The 6-foot-7 hurler has made four Texas League starts thus far, getting mixed results. Beavan has pitched seven-inning gems twice, and he's also surrendered 11 earned runs in 9.2 total innings in the other two outings. Still, for a 20-year-old, Beavan is more than holding his own early in his Double-A career.

Lone Star Dugout chatted with the former first-round pick before his most recent start against the Springfield Cardinals.

Jason Cole: How did you feel about your time on the mound in Bakersfield?

Blake Beavan: I felt good. I just learned a lot. I got hit around a bunch early, and then I started figuring out things and concentrating on what I needed to do to pitch in that league and adjust to those hitters. Everything started clicking and I tried not to look back.

Cole: You pitched with Clinton of the Midwest League last year. Can you talk about some of the differences in the Midwest League compared to the California League? What were the adjustments that you had to make?

Beavan: In the Midwest League, the hitters were a lot of free swingers. The hitters were going to chase a lot of pitches. They aren't going to take that much, so if you can get ahead of them, you're basically going to get them out for the most part. If they square one up on you—being free swingers—it'll go a long way and you're going to get hit pretty hard.

Especially in that league, you've got to mix up your pitches a lot and in that league, I actually stuck to my fastball a lot. I tried to overpower with my fastball—not as far as velocity-wise, but location and pitching inside and really getting in on hitters. Then I used the outside part of the plate.

The California League was not too much of a difference, but it was a little more patient. There are still a lot of free swingers in High-A. Guys just sitting and guessing on one pitch. If they guess right, they hit it and it's gone. Especially in California—the ball flies everywhere. It's different.

I liked pitching in Bakersfield, though. It's always a challenge. It definitely made you want to keep the ball down and think about hitting your spots and really concentrating. There is not a lot of room for error in High-A, and definitely no room in Double-A for error.

The guys in Double-A will square stuff up on you. If you leave it up, you're not going to get away with it nine times out of ten. The hitters are a little more patient. Still, if you get ahead of any hitter with the first-pitch strike, hitters are going to have to open up their zone as far as swinging the bat and not taking as much. That's what I've been trying to do here—just getting that first-pitch strike.

Cole: You mentioned your early struggles in Bakersfield. But it seemed like all of the sudden, you turned it around and you were going seven or eight innings every time out. What clicked for you? What was the key to that?

Beavan: I think mainly just mixing my pitches up after that first and second time through the order. Not sticking to my fastball—even if it's a good pitch that day. You've got to use everything. You have to go after hitters with everything you've got. The changeup has been real big for me against lefties. I'll mix it up all the time against lefties. Then righties, that first time through, I'll try to stick with my fastball unless I'm just getting hit that day. Then I'll have to start mixing it up early.

But most of the time, I'll try to stick to my fastball for the most part. Then after that first time through the order, I'll start pitching backwards and remembering what these hitters did last time. Then I'll throw them different from what I did the last time. Or if I'm getting them out every time on the same pitch, I'll stick until I get beat.

Cole: You mentioned the changeup. I know it became a pretty solid pitch for you in Clinton last year. Can you talk about how much that pitch has progressed not only this year, but over the last two seasons?

Beavan: It has come a long way. I think I've still got a long way before I actually get the hang of it—to where it's going to be a comfortable and dominant pitch for the rest of my career. But I've only been throwing my changeup for two years now. This is my second full year. So really I've only been throwing it for a year and a half. It has come a long way and it's working. It has gotten me a lot of good swings and misses against lefties.

I haven't really thrown it to right-handed hitters that much. That's what I'm going to start working on now in bullpens. I'm going to try and do it in games with certain hitters at certain times. I'm just going to start working on throwing it to both sides of the plate, getting comfortable with it, throwing it in different counts, and really just getting the feel of it.

Cole: Have you played around with different grips at all or has it just been one that has stuck these last two seasons?

Beavan: I messed around a little bit with a couple of grips, but the circle change—for me—is what has worked. It feels more comfortable to me—just holding it like a circle. That's the big thing about changeups. There are so many grips that guys can throw it with. It's whatever feels comfortable to them and whatever works for them. The circle change has been good for me so far.

Cole: How about your slider? How do you feel about the progression of your breaking ball?

Beavan: The slider is good. I haven't really had that much of a problem with my slider as far as the movement on it. But it used to be a lot more side-to-side when I was in high school and my first year in the Midwest League.

Now it is starting to get a lot more tilt to it. It's starting to have a lot more downward action than side-to-side, which is what they always tell you is what you want for a slider. You don't want side-to-side—you want the tilt and the downward angle. It is coming along good and I'm just going to keep working hard on all my pitches. I'm going to keep trying to pound the zone with my offspeed pitches, which will open up the fastball and it will open up vice versa.

Cole: Do you know why the slider is getting more tilt now?

Beavan: Just the position on my hand—how I'm throwing it. And staying closed longer on my front side. I'm staying on one path instead of swinging open or pulling it across my body, which I still do. It's just a habit from high school and everything else. But that's why I'm in the minor leagues, and that's why everybody is working on their own pitches. It just comes with experience and time. You've got to keep working on it and building with it.

Cole: You throw both a two-seam fastball and a four-seamer, correct?

Beavan: Yeah, I do. But I'm actually throwing just straight four-seams this year. I haven't thrown any two-seams.

Cole: It seems like you're still getting your fair share of ground balls and you are keeping the ball in the park for the most part in the Cal League. Is that just because you're keeping the ball down?

Beavan: A lot more than I did early in the California League, and a lot more than I did in the Midwest League. I'm just starting to get the ball down more. When I do get it up, most of the time my ball will be up, up. It won't be right over the plate or in the zone. It'll be a little too high for them to swing at. Or sometimes they'll swing at it anyways and hit it. But that's baseball. Everybody is going to leave balls up and everybody is going to throw good pitches. The best thing to do is just try not to throw that many up and try to get the ball down.

Cole: Talk about when you found out that you were coming to Frisco. When did they tell you and how'd they do it?

Beavan: I think I got called up on June 10th or 11th. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday night. After the game, they called me in the office and the manager—Buechele—said that I was going back home.

He said, ‘Don't change anything you've been doing here. You've been doing everything good. Go to Double-A and just keep doing what you've been doing and keep working on the things you've been working on.' That's what Chavy [Dave Chavarria] told me. He just wished me the best of luck and said to have fun.

I was pretty pumped when he told me I was going back home. Especially to go to the next level and face some really good hitters and get as much experience as I can.

Cole: Your first start was in Midland, and then your second start was here in Frisco. You threw pretty well in that start, giving up just one run over seven innings. What was that like? I'm sure you had a bunch of family and friends here.

Beavan: It was fun. That first game against Corpus, I threw really well. Everything was on. My offspeed pitches, 90 percent of the time, were just right where I wanted them to be for strikes. Even when I missed, they were still good pitches. I didn't really leave any balls up in the zone that day.

It was just a great day. I think I only threw two or three pitches up in the zone, and they were fortunate to be outs. That day was just one of those days where everything was clicking and everything was going good. My defense was playing good behind me and the hitters were hitting.

The game I threw against Corpus the second time—that's the thing about this league. I've been talking to older guys, and they said you're going to face the same teams over and over and over again. It's kind of a disadvantage for the pitcher, seeing the same teams. The hitters know what you've got.

It just makes you work hard on mixing everything up and trying to find different ways to get those hitters out. Maybe picking up something every time you see them. Picking up weaknesses on hitters and strengths on hitters and pitching around that.

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