LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Braves pitcher David Hale has a business degree from Princeton and takes an analytical approach to preparing for and pitching in games. But it didn’t take an Ivy Leaguer to figure out the problem in his performance Wednesday.
The rookie from Marietta was charged with five hits, three runs and three walks with two strikeouts in 4-1/3 innings of a 7-0 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees at Champion Stadium. Two of three batters he walked ended up scoring, including Brett Gardner after a walk to start the game.
“I’ve got to stop walking people, absolutely,” said Hale, who has a 5.11 ERA in four starts and has allowed 14 hits and five walks in 12-1/3 innings.
The right-hander said he recognized the problem Wednesday – a flaw in his mechanics, with his lower body – and will make an adjustment. He will have one or more more starts before the regular season, when he’s penciled in for one of four starting spots in the opening-day rotation, behind Julio Teheran, Freddy Garcia and Alex Wood.
The Braves plan to add newcomer Ervin Santana to the rotation during the second week of the season, after he has time to pitch in games and build arm strength. (Santana signed as a free agent last week after the Braves lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to elbow injuries.)
Mike Minor and veteran Gavin Floyd should be ready to join the rotation by late April and early May, respectively. But at least until then, Hale will likely have a chance to make several regular season starts.
“Obviously you don’t want to see someone get hurt,” said Hale, 26. “We’re all friends here. But now that I have the opportunity, I’m not planning on letting it go. I’ve got to do my best, and I want to help this team the best I can.”
He was impressive in his only two major league games, a pair of September starts in which he posted a 0.82 ERA while allowing 11 hits, one run and only one walk with 14 strikeouts in 11 innings. He had nine strikeouts in five innings in his first start – a franchise strikeout record for a pitcher in his debut – and afterward said he was so nervous beforehand that he was happy he didn’t throw up or trip running onto the field.
Hale thinks that nervousness can be productive because it keeps him sharp, gives him an edge.
“I feel more confident (now),” he said Wednesday. “I hope I never feel comfortable. I pitch better when I’m a little nervous. I’m just on top of my stuff. But I’m definitely more confident because of that September callup.”
He twice walked Gardner leading off innings Wednesday. His other walk was issued to former Brave Kelly Johnson in the fourth inning, between a two-out single by Brian Roberts and Adonis Garcia’s two-out double down the line past diving third baseman Chris Johnson. Hale had retired nine consecutive batters before the Roberts single.
“Lot of ground balls,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “His ball was really diving and darting today. (The walks were) uncharacteristic of him; he usually pounds the strike zone pretty good. But it may have just been one of those things where he couldn’t get strikes, walked a couple of guys, and it cost him.”
Braves pitchers had 10 walks Wednesday, and Gonzalez wasn’t as understanding about those issued by a pair of bullpen candidates, Luis Vasquez and Juan Jaime. Vasquez allowed one hit, two runs (one earned) and two walks in the seventh inning, and Jaime was charged with two runs and four walks while recording just one out in the ninth inning.
“Too late in camp to be walking people,” Gonzalez said. “You can live with that early in camp, when some of these guys haven’t pitched. But some of these guys now have eight, nine, 10 appearances. You can’t be doing that.
“You want to see a lot of consistency coming out of that bullpen. We didn’t do that today.”
Jaime has allowed just one hit in 5-1/3 innings over six appearances, but the hard-throwing right-hander has seven walks to go with five strikeouts. Vasquez has allowed two hits in 3-2/3 innings over four appearances, but has six walks with two strikeouts.