CHARLESTON, W.VA. – West Virginia pitcher Ike Schlabach hasn’t always had his best stuff this season for the Power, but that doesn’t mean the 21-year-old out of Texas is having a down year.
Schlabach, a 19th round pick by the Pirates in 2015, spent last season in Morgantown with moderate success. He struck out 49 while walking 22 to go with a 2.83 ERA in 14 starts for the New York-Penn League’s Black Bears.
In the offseason the plan was to work on increasing his fastball velocity, Schlabach said. It was a plan that showed promise, but still hasn’t quite shown results on the field. At least not the desired results.
“During fall instructional league I was working on really getting into my back leg to produce more power in my legs that way I can get some more power out of the pitch and increase velocity,” he said. “I got some results in instructs, worked on it in the offseason, came back and it’s just not where I want it to be right now.”
When Schlabach is on, his fastball can top out in the low 90s. When he’s off, however, it sits in the mid-to-upper 80s. When his velocity is down, he said, it is because he is not getting into his back leg the way he’d like to in his delivery. It is something he is working on, but hasn’t quite been able to perfect and make a permanent part of his game.
“His velocity fluctuates,” Power manager Wyatt Toregas said. “He’s one of those strange guys where one day he feels good and he throws 90, some days he doesn’t feel good and he throws 84. So for him, he just needs to identify which is going on. I think something he has been working hard on is getting that changeup in play. If you have your changeup, it doesn’t matter how hard your fastball is going. The big thing with him is you have to have your changeup every day, and if he does that it doesn’t matter how hard he’s throwing.”
Schlabach’s starts have been mostly good with some bumps in the road along the way. He has a 1-0 record after seven appearances and four starts with a 3.38 ERA to go with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks. Opponents are batting .221 against him, but sometimes his best stuff just isn’t there.
Not a problem, at least not usually, according to Toregas.
“For him, I don’t think he panics when he doesn’t have his good stuff,” Toregas said. “He doesn’t lose confidence. He’s confident in himself and I think when he goes out there, regardless of what he has that day, he’s thinks he’s going to have a good day. It’s good to see a guy do that. I caught a lot, and the guys that are really good just go out there with whatever they have that day and believe they’re going to get guys out. He kind of has that a little bit.”
Part of Schlabach’s strength on the mound might come from a somewhat awkward looking delivery. Deception can be a cruel trick to have up your sleeve as a pitcher, and Toregas said he thinks Schlabach has some of that in him. In his last start May 3 at home against the Augusta GreenJackets, Schlabach scattered five hits over six innings, allowing one earned run and dancing out of trouble several times.
“The ball seems to come out, it just looks a little weird and gives hitters some trouble,” Toregas said. “That’s why sometimes I’m watching him throw and I’m not really impressed by his stuff, but the hitter steps in the box and it completely plays up. There’s some sort of deception in there going along with it. He just does his thing and goes after guys.
“The thing he’s been doing well lately is he’s been doing a really good job at damage control. He had that one game where he went five innings and one hit where he kind of dominated, then he had another game where there was kind of traffic all the time and he was able to wiggle his way through all of it. He really didn’t have good stuff but he was making a pitch here, making a pitch there. He has the ability to pitch at times, which is a strength at this level.”