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SoxProspects News

June 25, 2011 at 12:55 AM

Pimentel taking baby steps to regaining form

MANCHESTER, N.H. – For a player ranked fifth in the SoxProspects.com preseason rankings, it would be tough for even the most positive fan to sugar-coat how the 2011 season has gone for Stolmy Pimentel. Entering his start on Friday night, the 21-year-old Dominican right-hander had managed to throw just 43.0 innings in 12 starts, an average of less than four innings per start, and compiled an 0-8 record with a 9.42 ERA. He had given up 63 hits and 17 walks, striking out just 27 batters. Pimentel is very young for the Eastern League – he was the fourth-youngest in the circuit at the start of the season – but even despite struggling with some inconsistency last season in the Carolina League at 20, any struggles he had were nothing like these.

His first six starts were not dissimilar to last year’s results – a good start here, a bad start next, a mediocre one to follow. However, things really seemed to unravel over a five-start stretch from May 14 to June 12. He completed five innings just once over that span, and failed to get out of the second inning three times. In 13.1 innings, he gave up 31 hits and 27 earned runs, and struck out just 7 batters. It seemed that the only way things could have gotten worse would have been if he completely lost his command, Rick Ankiel-style.

However, Friday night marked the second straight (relatively) encouraging outing from Pimentel in what appears to be a strategy to limit him to shorter outings for a time. He went 3.0 innings on a wet, cold night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, battling through occasional location issues, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and 2 walks and striking out a pair of hitters. It was a second step back from the abyss after going 2.0 innings in his last start, giving up a run on three hits. Pimentel worked with runners on for most of his outing – he threw from the stretch to 10 of the 15 batters he faced – but his manager, Kevin Boles, saw some positives.

“I saw some fastball command,” Boles said after earlier commenting that both Pimentel and Caleb Clay made good pitches with runners on to limit damage. “He was able to maintain his stuff from the stretch. He got around his breaking ball a little bit, but showed a feel for a changeup occasionally.”

Pimentel had a similar assessment, pointing out that he threw some good curves and some bad ones, and that he commanded his fastball and threw some good changeups. The curve, in particular, noticeably came and went over the course of the outing. At times, it broke 11-5 at about 78 MPH, like when he threw it for a swinging strikeout to end the first. At others, he got around it, making it look more slurvy, and at others still, it plain slipped out of his hand, leading to a hit batter on at least one occasion. Pimentel, for his part, refused to use the wet conditions caused by days of rain in New Hampshire as an excuse.

“No matter what the weather is, what the mound is, we’ve got to just get ready to play,” he said. “I’ve got to get ready to pitch, no matter what the weather is.”

Boles praised Pimentel’s upside after the game, emphasizing what the club still sees as a bright future. He also praised how Pimentel has handled his recent struggles.

“(The plan is to) just keep grinding it out,” he said. “This kid, his work ethic is tremendous. He has never panicked. He keeps going after it. He believes in himself and he trusts the process. There’s going to be some struggles along the road to the major leagues. This kid’s handled things very fine. And we’re excited about his progress.”

It may be easy to dismiss Boles’ praise as a manager simply backing up his player. But for his part, Pimentel is saying the right things as well.

“I’ve been working to have better command of the plate, not being behind in the count,” said Pimentel. “Everything’s been better. I’ve been trying to not think about what’s been going on and just think about the present. Every day, I get to the ballpark and work, be positive, and keep going, no matter what.”

Scouts do not seem to be scared off by Pimentel either. The general feeling amongst the radar gun crowd in the stands behind home plate was something akin to “he’s still just a kid.” The stuff was there too. Pimentel was in the low 90s with his fastball, touching 94 MPH. The second strikeout came on a filthy changeup at 82 mph that broke down and in on the right-handed hitter, completely falling off the table. There was also some very hard contact – outfield prospect Anthony Gose, who is actually six months younger than Pimentel and was acquired by the Blue Jays for Brett Wallace after he had gone to Houston in the Roy Oswalt deal, had his way with Portland pitchers and catchers all night, finishing a triple short of the cycle and stealing two bases. Still, one can see the upside that Boles, in his third season as Pimentel’s manager, raved about after the game.

“People are going to look at the numbers. That’s the easy target. But the fact is that this kid is physically maturing,” he said. “When we first saw him in Greenville, he was a little bit awkward, but now he’s growing into his body. He’s filling out nicely. He’s got a real nice frame. And you’ve got to keep in mind that he’s 21 years old. If he was to come out of the draft this year as a junior, where would he be? This kid’s ahead of the game.”