Minor league notebook: Walks holding back Oliver's potential
INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis pitcher Andy Oliver isn't causing Pirates management much concern this season, with one glaring exception: Walks, and lots of them.
Oliver, a 6-foot-3 left-hander, leads the International League with 92 strikeouts in 822⁄3 innings of work, but he is also atop the walks category with 71, a whopping 22 more than anyone else.
Despite the control problems, Oliver is 4-2 with a 3.27 ERA.
“I think that is the issue of concern — the walks,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. “It's really all about command and he knows that.”
Oliver was acquired in a trade from Detroit for catcher Ramon Cabrera in the offseason, spending the past three seasons in the Tigers' organization.
Control problems led Detroit to give up on the 25-year-old Oliver, who allowed 168 walks over 266 innings during the past two seasons with Triple-A Toledo. He is ranked the 11th-best prospect in the Pirates organization by MLB.com.
“I can't tell you exactly what (leads to the walks), but I feel sometimes I tend to try to be a little bit too fine when I don't need to,” Oliver said.
With a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, Oliver doesn't need to worry about having pinpoint placement, Treanor said.
“We want him to be aggressive because his stuff plays,” Treanor said. “It's just a matter of him letting that stuff play and he has to find that strike zone.”
Twenty-four percent of leadoff batters have drawn a walk against Oliver, as well as 23 percent with the bases empty.
“The innings where he gives up runs, it's usually multiple runs,” Treanor said. “Once an inning gets started and there is a walk and a base hit, then I think he tries to become too fine and make that perfect pitch to get out of the inning, and then it snowballs on him a little bit.”
While he has allowed four walks or more in nine of his past 10 games, Oliver has been able to pitch around those for the most part. He's allowed three earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 16 starts this season; giving up just one run or fewer in nine of those starts.
Oliver's high strikeout total helps. He has five more strikeouts than anyone in the IL, despite ranking 14th in innings pitched. His .205 batting average against is second-best in the IL.
It seems Oliver has the ability to buckle down when needed most, allowing opponents to hit .151 with runners in scoring position; and .131 with runners in scoring position with two outs.
“I can't tell you what the exact reason that is that way, but maybe my intensity goes up in those situations,” Oliver said.
It's possible Oliver could transition to a relief role in the future, but no such plans are imminent.
“I think at a certain point that discussion probably has to be made,” Treanor said, “but we want him to grow in this role. When the Pirates signed him in the offseason we had high expectations for this guy and that's why he's is on the roster. We're putting our time in and he's working hard, and we're working hard here with him. You just hope eventually it clicks with him.”
Lambo's effort paying off
Andrew Lambo didn't make any major changes to his swing in the offseason, just his effort level.
An offseason of “pushing himself to the limit,” is paying off for Lambo, who has 20 home runs and 66 RBI between Altoona and Indianapolis, ranking fifth and fourth, respectively, in all of the minors.
“I don't think I was taking my job or my career too seriously, so I had to step back and ask myself if I really wanted to do this,” he said. “This offseason I really wanted to put in 110 percent physically and mentally. That was really my main goal and it should be.”
Since being promoted to Indianapolis on June 8, Lambo is hitting .317 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 17 games. He is hitting .395 over his past 10 games.
“It's just hard work,” Lambo said. “This game is tough and you definitely can't back down from it. There is always room for improvement. That's what I try to do by working hard.”
Black is back
After slightly more than a month on the disabled list with a left oblique injury, closer Vic Black has returned to the bullpen.
Black was in the midst of a dominating start to the season before getting injured, allowing four runs in 222⁄3 innings of work, after giving up three runs in the season opener.
So far, so good for Black in his return. He consistently hit 95-96 mph and reached 97 as he retired Rochester in order during one inning of relief Thursday. He also threw a scoreless inning of relief Monday against Charlotte.
“We want to keep him in the 20s (for pitch count) for the first two or three outings, and we'll go from there,” Treanor said. “Eventually at some point, when we feel there are no issues with him, we will look at pushing him up to two innings.”
Odds and ends
Second baseman Josh Harrison leads all of minor leagues with 20 extra-base hits in June, and is tied for first with 12 doubles and five triples. While he has missed 20 of the Tribe's games this season, Harrison leads the IL with 25 doubles. ... At one point last week the Pirates had the best record in the majors, while the Indians had the best record in the minors. ... After two solid starts to begin his Triple-A career, Stolmy Pimentel didn't fare as well in his third start. Pimentel allowed one earned run over 13 innings of work in his first two starts, but gave up six earned runs in five innings on Thursday against Rochester.
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