Christian Friedrich leaves start with elbow injury
Double-A Tulsa left-hander, coming off his best game of the season and pitching better than he has all season lately after incorporating some mechanical changes, had to leave his start Sunday night against Arkansas when he was hit on the left elbow with a batted ball. Initial reports were that Friedrich suffered a contusion that is not believed to be serious, and he will be examined Monday.
After giving up three consecutive singles to the first three batters he faced and one run, Friedrich was struck on the left elbow by a hard one-hopper hit by Charlton Jimerson, who played briefly with the Astros and Mariners. The ball deflected back toward home plate, leaving the bases loaded and leaving Friedrich, one of the better pitching prospects in the Rockies system, unable to continue after throwing nine pitches, eight strikes.
Arkansas pushed across a second run in the inning that was charged to Friedrich, who took the loss in Tulsa’s 6-1 defeat to fall to 2-6 with a 5.20 ERA. Those are deceptive statistics, since Friedrich, who retired the one batter he faced in the Futures Game on July 11, was coming off two good outings _ successive wins in which he allowed eight hits and three runs in 13 innings with five walks and 21 strikeouts. He was making his first start since July 8 _ his 23rd birthday _ when he struck out a career-high 12 and allowed four hits in seven innings while winning 2-1 at Corpus Christi.
Tulsa pitching coach Bryan Harvey said Friedrich “commanded his fastball down in the zone the best that he’s done all year” against Corpus Christi and was incorporating some mechanical changes designed to help him do just that.
Left elbow inflammation, which caused Friedrich to miss a month of the 2009 season at high Class A, again shut him down at Tulsa after an April 19 start until May 14. Harvey said early in the season, Friedrich, the 25th player taken overall in the 2008 draft, pitched ” a couple of decent games, not great” but kept the Drillers, who were having trouble scoring runs, in the game.
“Then he went through the elbow (inflammation) and when he come back from that, it was just very inconsistent,” Harvey said. “The ball was up and nothing was sharp. About three starts ago, he said, ‘This is the healthiest I’ve felt.’ He feels good. He’s feeling more comfortable with what we’re trying to do with his mechanics.”
The result has been steady improvement, culminating in Friedrich’s game at Corpus Christi where he threw 64 of 94 pitches for strikes. In that outing, Harvey said Friedrich pitched for the first time “where he actually trusted” the mechanical changes Harvey and roving pitching coordinator Bo McLaughlin had been working on with Friedrich.
“We were trying to get him to stay at the rubber a little bit longer,” Harvey said. “The balance has been going towards the catcher and what’s that been causing is his arm to drag and the ball to stay up.
So we were just working on a couple things _ keeping better balance at the rubber where his hands could lead the way to the catcher and he could create an angle down the hill. He wants to force the angle. He wants to get his hand up really high and pull the ball down and it gets short of the catcher.”
Asked just how to achieve that better balance and get Friedrich to linger a bit longer over the rubber, Harvey said, “The one thing he did was when he would bring his front leg down, he would almost point his toe to the ground in front of his back leg. So we stopped the toe-pointing to the ground, tried to get it a little smoother where it would work up and down and it seemed to help him stay at the rubber a little bit.”
Friedrich is 87-93 mph with his fastball, the lower speed mostly his two-seamer. He has a slider-cutter type pitch that he has started to throw more often. Friedrich’s curveball is a plus pitch, and his changeup is getting better. At Corpus Christi, Harvey said, “He was able to throw it in a fastball count when he needed a swing and miss, and it’s a swing and miss pitch as well.”