Early success builds Main's confidence

STOCKTON, Calif. – Through five starts this season, right-hander Michael Main has posted a 3.95 ERA while walking seven and striking out 18 in 27.1 innings, limiting opposing hitters to a .252 average. Lone Star Dugout features the prospect, who earned the victory over Stockton on Sunday afternoon.

Michael Main picked up his first victory since May 22 of last season when he defeated the Stockton Ports on Sunday afternoon. The right-hander worked five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out one.

Overall, Main managed the game well. The Blaze offense gave him four runs in the early going, and he never relinquished the lead.

"I went out there today just wanting to attack these guys and try to get ahead with first-pitch strikes and things like that," said Main, who threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 24 hitters he faced. "My fastball command was a little here and there today. It was a little better in the couple previous outings."

Although he wasn't getting ahead right off the bat, Main wasn't letting himself fall too far behind in the count. In fact, he had only three three-ball counts in the game, and none in the first 3.1 innings.

"I mixed it up pretty well and threw some pitches when I needed to," he said. "I got out of some jams with minimal damage. I felt good out there and just tried to keep my team in it to keep it close and give us a chance to win."

Because Main wasn't really falling behind in the count, he was able to manage his pitch count, particularly early on. Through the first three innings, the prospect threw just 34 pitches, getting plenty of early swings. Main says that has been the norm for him so far this year.

"I'm just trying to attack hitters right off the bat," he said. "I'm trying to get ahead as quick as I can. It's not like I'm worried about strikeouts. If we get one- or two-pitch outs, that's just helping to keep pitch counts down."

And pitching to contact is not exactly something Main would have done in his younger years.

"A lot of guys come out trying to look for strikeouts––pitching to miss bats rather than pitching to contact, which is what we're focusing on now," Main said. "It helps letting the players play behind you, getting quick outs, and things like that."

As Main displayed on Sunday, he is an aggressive pitcher who attacks hitters early and often with his fastball. During his stint at Advanced Instructional League last year, Main threw his fastball between 92-94 mph, often topping out at 95. So far this season––including on Tuesday––he mostly worked between 88-90 mph, hitting 91 a few times and 92 once.

The 21-year-old worked up in the zone a bit––something that he'll get burned on more often when his velocity is down a tick, as it was on Sunday. Still, his fastball often has some natural cut that helps him get in on the hands of right-handed hitters an induce broken bats or simply weak contact.

Since coming out of Florida's DeLand High School, Main's curveball has been his money secondary offering. While the bender has flashed plus at times, Main hasn't always gotten on top of it with much consistency, rendering it inconsistent.

Main threw the curveball 15 times in Sunday's outing, ranging anywhere between 71-75 mph, but mostly sitting in the 72-74 range. Main still has some work to do in terms of commanding his curve [he threw it for strikes seven times] and sharpening it to make it more of a swing-and-miss offering, but the pitch shows the potential to be plus in the future.

To give hitters a different look on his breaking ball, Main also added a slider last year that clocks in around 80-84 mph. He hasn't been throwing the offering for very long, but he used it at times during Sunday's game.

"I picked up [the slider] actually right before I got sick last year," the pitcher explained. "It is coming along and I'm feeling pretty comfortable with it. It's just another look––I like to throw a lot of fastballs. It's a pitch to throw off the fastball and maybe gets some mis-hits or some different kind of swings rather than guys just sitting on the fastball."

The slider is particularly helpful when Main doesn't have his best fastball, and the same can be true about the changeup, which is one of his biggest focuses right now.

Though Main had some trouble commanding his 78-83 mph change of pace against the Ports, the pitch showed the potential to at least become average. He had some deception and the pitch had decent sink and tumble away from left-handed hitters––he just didn't throw it for strikes very often. Of the 12 changeups he threw, just five were for strikes.

"The changeup is one of the things the organization wants me to focus on," said the former first-round pick. "They want me to incorporate my changeup a bit more. I think my last outing, I only threw it a handful. But this outing, I wanted to use it a little bit more.

"It got me a couple ground balls and I think one guy got a hit off it, but that's going to happen. I felt pretty comfortable with it. There were a couple that I spiked, but it's coming along. I feel more and more comfortable with it."

Main missed some bats with his fastball, but he got just one swinging strike on a secondary pitch, coming on an 82 mph first-pitch slider in the fifth inning. At this time, it's more about projection with his secondary stuff.

Already a fierce competitor with a strong feel for pitching, Main looks like he could become a mid-rotation starter with command of four pitches.

In his two previous years, Main hasn't been able to pitch a full season. A rib injury limited him to just 10 starts with Clinton in 2008, and he had just 58 innings in Bakersfield due to last season's unidentified viral infection.

Right now, Main says he just wants the full season. Badly.

"That's kind of my goal," Main said of pitching a full season. "I joke around with the trainer here–Jacob Newburn–telling him I'm not coming in the training room at all this year. Just to stretch before practice and before the game and that's it.

"I worked hard in the offseason to get my body ready, and hopefully I don't get any crazy illnesses and make it through this whole year."

More than anything, Main needs the full season to refine his secondary stuff and his overall command. Compared to last season, when his energy was sapped and his velocity was down, the Florida native feels like he's at full-strength.

"It's almost night and day compared to last year," he said. "I feel completely healthy. I haven't had any health issues this year, and I think it has allowed me to go out there and throw with confidence and know that I'm feeling good and things like that. It has allowed me to translate it to the field, where I'm able to make pitches."

The confidence factor has been big for Main. After getting knocked around the Cal League to the tune of a 6.83 earned-run average last year, he has posted a 3.95 ERA in five starts this season, allowing 26 hits and walking just seven in 27.1 innings.

Main believes his fast start could definitely act as a springboard for the remainder of the season.

"It's just a confidence builder," Main said. "This is what I wanted to do. I feel like I'm in control and confident when I'm out there on the mound. Maybe sometimes last year, I felt like I was in a rat race out there where chaos was just happening all around me. I didn't know how to control the situation.

"But now, I just feel really comfortable and controlled out there."



Prospect Video: Main warms up before Sunday's start

Also See: Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Dave Chavarria



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