DURHAM, N.C.–At the end of last season with Triple-A Durham, righthander Jacob Faria's fastball sat between 88-91 mph. Seven months later, back at Durham, his fastball parked comfortably between 91-93 mph and touched 94 mph regularly.
The extra velocity helped Faria on Tuesday night against Charlotte (White Sox), which he limited to one run on three hits and four walks over five innings. He struck out six as well before yielding to the bullpen. In two starts this season, Faria has whiffed 15 in 9.1 innings.
So what helped give Faria that extra leg up? An offseason and spring training dedicated to utilizing his lower half more in his delivery.
"It was all (Durham pitching coach) Kyle (Snyder). He's the one who brought it up to me, just getting on the back leg more, really letting that back leg lead the way and guide everything toward home plate," Faria said. "Last year I was just kind of up and down and falling toward home plate. I was doing that in spring training, too. I think my first minor league outing in spring training this year, it was all upper half. I couldn't control the fastball. Since the day I got sent down from big league camp, it's been all using that back leg, really driving hard toward home plate and really taking the stress off the upper half."
Besides the fastball velocity boost, the retooled delivery has given his other pitches more crispness as well. That includes a cutter-slider hybrid in the high 80s, a split-changeup and a 12-to-6 curveball in the mid 70s. Make no mistake, Faria was a prospect even without a few more ticks on his fastball. He checked in at No. 8 on the Rays' Top 30 prospects this year, and struck out 10 hitters per nine innings at Double-A Montgomery in the first portion of the season before moving Durham toward the end of the summer.
With the Bulls, Faria went 4-4, 3.72 over 13 starts and struck out 64 in 68 innings. He walked 68 in 151 innings between the two levels, though, so his control will bear watching as the season progresses. And while Faria deflects his success toward his pitching coach, Snyder is quick to give his student all the praise.
"The stuff that he did in the winter just prepared him for the year, from a physical standpoint," Snyder said. "He worked hard, he added some muscle and he gained some weight for a little extra support system. From that point forward, all we've really done is just focus on using his legs a little bit more, using his drive leg in his delivery. He's seen a velocity spike and now, at this point in time, it's just a matter of maintaining it throughout the year."
The offseason workout regimen Snyder referred to was done in two parts. Three days a week he worked with Dominick Johnson, his high school pitching coach in Poway (Calif.) High, along with a host of other pros including Jair Jurrjens, Phil Coke, Joe Musgrove, Chris Devenski and Jerome Williams. Two days week he worked out at a gym that specializes in training ultimate fighters, and he spent every Saturday at a power-lifting club.
The workouts added the strength so he and Snyder could go to work implementing changes. And the results, even through the first two starts of the season, have been evident. Faria's not only raised his velocity, he's raised his profile as well.
"It shows you the kind of work he put in during the offseason," Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said, "and the trust that he puts into the player development staff. ... It's just made all his pitches that much better."
LOPEZ ON FIRE
Righthander Reynaldo Lopez—part of the package the White Sox pried from the Nationals for outfielder Adam Eaton during this offseason's Winter Meetings overhaul—started against Durham and struck out 10 in 5.1 innings. He made two big mistakes during his outing, both which resulted in home runs. Durham leadoff man Johnny Field hammered a center-cut fastball to open the game, and catcher Michael Marjama tagged a hanging breaking ball over the Blue Monster in left field to close Lopez's night.
In between, Lopez showed the dominant stuff that made him a priority add for Chicago. His fastball sat in the mid-to-upper 90s all night, peaking at 99, with tail away from righthanders. He mixed in a pair of breaking balls as well, a curveball and a slider, each thrown in the low 80s. The slider was the more effective pitch, and Lopez manipulated it to dive away for righthanders or occasionally break through the front door for a called strike. He also threw a changeup in the mid-80s that at time showed late fade away from lefties.
Durham outfielder Jake Bauers gave the Bulls the lead with a brilliant piece of hitting. The 21-year-old, getting his first taste of Triple-A, dumped a breaking ball from Lopez just inside the right-field line for a single to bring around the Bulls' second run. Bauers also made a key defensive play when he cut off Willy Garcia's single into the left-center field gap. That move allowed him time to gather and throw home in plenty of time to nail the potential game-tying run at the plate by at least 30 feet.
Bulls reliever Ryne Stanek