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Pitcher Vic Black healthy, gaining confidence

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:56 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Vic Black throws at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Vic Black is making it look easy at times this season, using a fastball in the high-90s and a sharp breaking ball to compile 24 strikeouts in 15 23 innings of work out of the bullpen.

It wasn't always easy for Black, who can remember a time when he struggled to throw a baseball 60 feet, and watched his velocity drop nearly 10 mph.

Black made just two starts in 2010 with West Virginia, compiling a 9.64 ERA before a shoulder injury ended his season. While surgery wasn't needed, it cost him some of the 2011 season, and led his conversion to a reliever.

“I didn't know what was wrong,” Black said. “It was mainly when my arm was coming through to throw the ball. As I started to deliver the ball home, that's when it bit up and there were days I couldn't throw it 60 feet.”

When he first returned to the mound as a reliever his velocity dropped to around 88 mph, and “at that point you're questioning if you're going to have to reinvent yourself.

“It was tough because I had to keep the mentality but I couldn't go after guys with just the fastball,” Black said. “I couldn't throw the breaking ball because I didn't have the arm speed for it, so I had to ditch that.”

After rest eventually healed Black, who does yoga in the offseason to build strength, his velocity returned. He appeared in 51 games for Altoona last season, allowing 40 hits, striking out 85 and walking 29 in 60 innings of work, compiling a 1.65 ERA and a team-high 13 saves.

Black is consistently throwing his fastball in the upper-90s this season, a mark he didn't hit with Altoona until midway through last season.

“Whenever you're able to throw that breaking ball for a strike, which is a hell of a breaking ball to begin with,” Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer said, “and match it up with his velocity, you have something special.”

If there is anything needing work with Black, who has seven saves this season, it's carrying over his dominating performances past the first inning of his outing.

Black has been sent out for a second inning of work in five of his 12 appearances.

In the first inning of his appearances, Black has struck out 19, walked two, and allowed one run and two hits in 11 innings of work. When he has been sent out for a second inning, Black has allowed four earned runs, five walks, six hits and struck out five in 4 23 innings of work. Most of that second-inning damage came in the season opener.

“(Going out for a second inning in the season opener) was kind of a shock to me mentally and I wasn't quite ready for that, but now I am,” Black said.

Getting the job done

There's not too much reliever Duke Welker can complain about through his first eight appearances this season.

Welker has allowed two hits and no runs over 13 innings, striking out 17 and walking five.

“He's keeping the ball off the barrel of the bat,” Indians manager Dean Treanor said. “The numbers are very gaudy.”

Welker had a 2.29 ERA, striking out 49 and walking 25 in 55 innings last season between Altoona and Indianapolis.

“I think it's just being comfortable with my surroundings,” he said.

Farewell performance

Francisco Liriano will likely make his third, and final, rehabilitation start with Indianapolis on Sunday at Lehigh Valley, before being recalled by Pittsburgh.

In his first two outings Liriano has struck out 17 and walked none in 11 innings, allowing four hits and one run in each start.

Filer said Liriano was even better in his second outing, when he threw 79 pitches, 52 for strikes in six innings.

“I saw more balls located on both sides of the plate, and he was especially strong to his glove side, getting that ball in on right-handers,” Filer said.

Notes: Indianapolis is off to a 21-7 start this season through Friday, best in organization history since the 1959 team opened 22-7. ... Indy pitchers lead the International League in ERA (2.58) and WHIP (1.08). ... Infielder Josh Harrison has scored nine runs and stolen seven bases over his last seven games, including one steal of home. ... Starting pitcher Andy Oliver leads the IL with 39 strikeouts. ... Infielder Matt Hague has reached base safely in 25 of 27 games, and is hitting .455 against left-handed pitching. ... During a 12-game span from April 19-30, Indianapolis starting pitchers allowed one run or fewer in nine games.

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