Like many pitchers before him, Nick Peterson has made the transition from starter to reliever and…
Staten Island Progress Report
Peterson, who has been the Penn-League's version of Jonathan Papelbon, has yet to blow a save in nine chances. The hard-throwing right-hander has been dominant, posting a 1.08 ERA, holding opponents to a .179 batting average and recording 26 strikeouts in just 16.2 innings pitched.
When the converted-starter spoke to PinstripesPlus a month ago, he had allowed one earned run in 3.2 innings. He said that he needed to work on his slider, limit the use of his changeup and become more comfortable in his new role. Since then, he's allowed just one earned run in 13 games and struck out the side in his most recent appearance on July 25th in which he recorded a quick save against the Batavia Muckdogs.
"I think I'm throwing more strikes now," Peterson said of his progression. "Working inside and outside, but more outside than before, and mixing in some sliders."
"The coaching staff here is unbelievable," he said. "I've learned things from other players and you pick up something new every day. If we knew everything, be wouldn't here."
He said that he and Pitching Coach Carlos Chantres continue to work on developing his control of the sharp-breaking slider, his secondary pitch.
As for the changeup, his tertiary pitch, which the coaching staff had suggested he not use as much in close games, he said that he still tinkers with it in bullpen sessions but rarely uses it in games.
"Right now we're not using it because as a closer, they're keeping me to two pitches. But I'm going to keep it in the back of my mind, just because I'm sure I'll need it down the road."
Chantres elaborated, saying that although he would rather not have the closer risk getting beaten on his weakest pitch, he didn't want to scrap the changeup altogether because the pitcher's role might change once he is promoted.
"Nick has been looking good though," he said, before the Manager Gaylen Pitts interjected saying, "No, he's been looking real good."
"He's commanding his fastball like a big leaguer right now and the slider is coming around, too," Chantres continued. "We've been working on that every day. That's what we've been trying to get him, that second pitch. You can't be successful on higher levels with one pitch."
On July 2nd, Fortenberry's batting average had dipped below the Mendoza line to .194 following an 0-for-2 afternoon against the Ironbirds. Since then, he's been red hot and has pulled his average up to .267 after a big evening against Muckdogs on July 26th.
Fortenberry, who has now become the team's leadoff hitter, went 3-5 in Wednesday night's win, including a triple in the first inning which helped give Staten Island an early lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"I've been playing in the leadoff spot a lot lately and that's forced me to be a little more patient and work some counts and focus on getting on base," he said. "And the ball's been bouncing my way."
In the third inning, however, the ball didn't bounce until after it cleared the right field wall when Fortenberry crushed a Daniel Brauer (who has a 1.80 ERA) offering for a two-run homer.
"I guess that was the patience paying off a little bit," he said of the home run. "It was a 2-0 count and I figured on the next pitch he'd probably try to get a strike across and come in with a fastball. He did and I was able to get the barrel on it. And when a guy is throwing upper 80's or low 90's, it doesn't take too much to get it out of the park when you made good contact."
He feels that his opposite field hitting is the area in which he‘s improved the most. His triple in Wednesday night's contest was a blast to the left-centerfield gap. Fortenberry admitted that it was something he had struggled with before, but said that the level of competition in the league left him no choice but to ameliorate that skill. He also credited the hitting coach, Ty Hawkins.
"Ty is in there every day throwing us pitches," he said. "I attribute a lot of the success to him."
"He's got a good arm, except he's got a nice cutter," the outfielder joked. "We're out there in [batting practice] sometimes not hitting the ball as well and I'm getting a little upset at him."
"He's got a real good approach at the plate and a nice swing path," said Hawkins of his pupil.
"The cutters, I like to throw a few just to keep him back," he explained. "I don't do it with everybody because they're all different. I can't throw any other pitches either, at least not on purpose."
On June 26th, the left fielder was hitting .353 and said that he most needed to improve on his opposite field hitting and develop more power to left field.
"He (Jim Edmonds, whom he idolizes) is a left-handed stick and he drives the ball real well to left field and that's what I'm still trying to learn," he said.
Aragon has maintained a high batting average - hitting .319 as of July 27th - but admitted that he hasn't been able to hit as many balls to left field as he would like.
"Well, I only have about one hit to left field," he lamented. "It's something I've been working on a lot in batting practice and the cages but I haven't done much of it in games. Hopefully that will change soon and it will show up in the games."
"For right now, I'm just trying to buy hits and stay up the middle," he said.
He also believes that his mental approach and hitter's IQ have gotten better since arriving in Staten Island.
"It's a different level of baseball where you have to adjust from at-bat to at-bat because they pitch you differently here. Sometimes they pitch you backwards," he said of the often unorthodox pitch sequences employed.
"Learning more about stuff like that is where I've improved."
He said that for the final six weeks of the season, he plans to continue focusing on hitting the ball to all fields consistently, further develop his base-running instincts and get better at picking up on signs.
Statistically, it has been an up-and-down season for Larsen thus far. After getting off to a torrid start going 6-for-19 with three homeruns and 11 RBI in the first four games, his pace slowed and his batting average plummeted to .180 on July 7th. He then went on a two-week tear to pull the number up to .276, but has since fallen into a slump and seen it drop 42 points.
"I've had a couple good weeks here and there, then at points I can't buy a hit," said Larsen, who batted .308 last season for the Yankees. "Really, that's been the story of the year for me."
He said that he thinks the reason he's endured prolonged slumps is because he hasn't been as patient as he can be and has found himself lunging at balls in an attempt to hit for more power.
"I'm getting out on my front foot a little bit," he explained. "I've been too pull-conscious when I should be staying back and just letting the ball come. I was probably getting kind of over-anxious after hitting three home runs in the first couple games. In the back of my mind, I probably thought that I could just go hit home runs all the time and that‘s not the case."
"I need to stay back and let the ball dictate where I hit it…look to spread it around all over the outfield."
Larsen does however, lead the New York-Penn League in runs batted in with 30 and his home run total of four is good for second best. In that, he finds solace, saying that as long as he is producing runs and contributing to a winning team, he won't allow himself to be in the doldrums.
"Baseball is just a weird game like that. The ball has been dropping for me when there's runners in scoring position," he said of his .273 average with runners on second or third base."
"Aside from the pitcher needing to throw more strikes, I guess it might be a mental thing where you know there's guys on that you can drive in and so you're more focused," he said.
In the remaining games, he would like to work on being more consistent at staying back on pitches and he expects his numbers to improve.
"If I'm able to get that done, from where I'm at now, I'd like to work [my average] up towards .300, for sure. I had gotten it up to .276, but now we're getting a little deeper into the season so it will be tough. With a month and a half left, I might be able to get up to .280."
"He'll come out of it," said Hawkins. "He's got good hitting fundamentals and once he gets back to that, he'll be fine. I'm not worried about him."
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