In 2009 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox. In return they received Triple-A shortstop Argenis Diaz, and low-A right handed pitcher Hunter Strickland.
Strickland was in the middle of a strong season. He had a 3.35 ERA in 83.1 innings for the Red Sox low-A affiliate. The Pirates placed him in West Virginia, and in his first start in the organization he combined with Diego Moreno for a no-hitter, throwing six no-hit innings. He finished the year with a 3.77 ERA in 43 innings with West Virginia.
The right-hander returned to low-A the following season, and pitched 43 more innings at the level. This time he posted a 5.86 ERA before being moved up to high-A. He made just four appearances in Bradenton before going down with an elbow strain. Strickland missed the rest of the season, but returned to action in Spring Training the next year.
He was slated to go to Bradenton again, when his shoulder started acting up during his last outing of the spring. Eventually he underwent rotator cuff surgery in August 2011.
“We tried to work throughout the whole year trying to rehab it and come back, because obviously the last option is surgery,” Strickland said of the injury. “And then it just kept acting up, so that’s what I had to do was go to see [Dr. James] Andrews.”
Strickland worked four days a week over the off-season with a trainer, trying to get back on the field. He came in to Spring Training at 100%, health-wise.
“I felt great,” Strickland said about his health. “My arm feels healthy. I give it to the trainers. They helped me a long ways, giving me different exercises to do.”
“Physically he’s in very good shape from a workout standpoint, from a conditioning standpoint,” Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway said. “Mentally, a really good spot. Physically, as far as game throwing, bullpen, mechanics, arm, everything looks good.”
Not only was Strickland healthy, but he was also throwing with good velocity. In his first start of the spring he touched 96 MPH with his fastball. Throughout the spring he was consistently sitting 92-94 MPH. His changeup continues to progress, and he spent a lot of time this spring working on his slider, which looked sharp at times.
“I need to change my mentality on it a little bit,” Strickland said of the slider. “I need to throw it more like a fastball. But it’s coming around.”
He also throws a two seam fastball, an just started throwing a cutter in Spring Training after working with other pitchers during throwing programs, trying out different grips.
“It’s always good to have another pitch in the mix,” Strickland said of the addition.
The Pirates put him on a track to be a starting pitcher in Bradenton, due to his valuable arsenal of pitches. On Tuesday he made his first regular season appearance since June 5, 2010. He went five innings, allowing two runs on five hits, with no walks and two strikeouts. The two runs and three of the hits came in the first inning.
He’s missed a year and a half, but Strickland is only 23 years old. The Pirates will have to monitor his innings load throughout the year, and how many innings he goes will depend on how he feels during the season. He threw 57 innings in 2010, and his career high was 126.1 in 2009.
“He’s not a young kid, so we’re not specifically throwing a certain inning window in there,” Broadway said about his 2012 workload. “But it’s going to be more on the evaluation of him. How is he maintaining his mechanics. How he feels. How his stuff holds up. And if everything continues in a positive direction, we’ll continue to give him innings.”
JOSH BELL HITS FIRST HOMER
Josh Bell hit his first professional home run last night, a three run shot in West Virginia’s 10-6 loss to Asheville.
Bell got off to a rough start this year, going 3-for-10 in his first two games, but striking out six times. He’s only struck out three times in his 16 at-bats since then, and is 4-for-9 in his last two games with a double and a homer.
Wilbur Miller saw Bell last weekend in Hagerstown, and had some observations on his play. He noted that it looked like Bell was adjusting to the speed of the game, which is much faster in full season A-ball than it is in high school.
**Chase d’Arnaud was hit in the head with a pitch on Saturday, and was removed from the game. He’s missed time since then with a concussion.
**Kyle McPherson is currently on the Triple-A disabled list with shoulder inflammation. There is still no time table on his return, although he is currently on a throwing program.
**Stetson Allie experienced some tightness in his elbow during his last start, due to cold weather. He is throwing again and should be back on the mound soon. Last night would have been his next regularly scheduled start, but was made by Mike Jefferson.