After sending Michael Tonkin down to Rochester after Wednesday’s game, they recalled hard-throwing Alex Meyer to replace him. Meyer, who the team received in the Denard Span trade with Washington as a starting pitching prospect, has rediscovered himself as a reliever in the Red Wings bullpen. Since the move Meyer has worked 17 innings in relief and has limited opponents to a .188 batting average while posting a solid 20-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
According to the Durham Bulls broadcasters, their players said that compared to 2014 Meyer’s fastball was flat and that it lacked movement that it had the previous year. His command also was an issue since once he was behind in the count, they did not have to anticipate the knuckle-curve. This was reminiscent of Francisco Liriano’s plight from 2012 in which he was unable to locate his fastball and hitters simply laid off his nasty slider. In his final start, Meyer faced Durham and in just over four innings, the Bulls’ lineup knocked out seven hits of him. They waited patiently as he progressed deeper into counts by missing his spots and made him throw 109 pitches on his way to another early exit.
Six days later, Rochester was in Durham, North Carolina and Meyer had moved to the bullpen.
The move was made in order for Meyer to find consistency with his fastball and to attempt to regain his biting curve ball which had lost the break it had had a year ago. It also was a move to alleviate the pressure he applied to the relief corps each time his start was truncated. Meyer acknowledged that his arm slot had dropped since the end of 2014. Now in the pen, he told the Rochester broadcasting team that he would be concentrating on getting that release point back up to improve his movement.
While some pitching prospects might find the switch troublesome on the ego, Meyer seemed to transition smoothly. In his first outing in relief, Meyer worked a clean 1-2-3 eighth inning against the Bulls -- the team which had less than a week earlier knocked him out of the starting rotation. Meyer worked quickly, getting strikes within the first two pitches of each at-bat. His fastball was humming at 96 and touching 97. He deployed a short break slider at significantly slower speed to register his first two outs and blasted a 97 mile per hour fastball above the zone for a swinging strike for the final out.
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It was something that every bullpen needs -- someone to be able to throw late innings, bat-missing heat. When Rochester hosted a wrestling night at the beginning of June, all the relievers were given WWE wrestling persona’s that matched their demeanor on the mound. Meyer -- who is also called White Missile by his teammates -- was given The Undertaker, a wrestler who dominated in the ring and stole the souls of his opponents. The character fit well for Meyer’s new role.
"While I'm in the bullpen, it's go get 'em,” Meyer told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “Do whatever you have to do to get them out. I'm just trying to go out there and attack every batter. Get one batter out at a time and try not to over-analyze things any more than that."
By the eye test, he looked comfortable going through the motions of a short outing. He leaned on his fastball but was sure to work his knuckle-curve in several times. In fact, he leaned on his curve too much in his first few relief outings. In his first outing, Meyer found himself up 0-1 in the count and shook off his catcher, Josmil Pinto, in order to throw back-to-back curves (both for balls and well off-target). He returned to his fastball and got two swinging strikes: one on the inner-half of the plate and another above the strike zone to finish the hitter off. In another outing, Meyer turned to his curve too frequently in two-strike situations. In four of the nine matchups against Lehigh Valley on June 2, he threw the bender three pitches in a row -- one of which, on a 3-2 count, facilitated a bases-loaded rally that Meyer somehow eventually wiggled out of.
Although he appeared to overuse and misfire with the curve early, Meyer also tightened it up in his subsequent outings. The break appeared sharper and able to generate swinging strikes again. Upon his promotion, Red Wings beat writer Kevin Oklobzija highlighted Meyer’s improvement with the curve as a function why he was successful in the pen.
During several broadcasts, announcers remarked how “confident” Meyer looked in his new role. His second appearances out of the bullpen on May 25 was all business. The Red Wings needed one out in the sixth inning and they called on a pitcher who could get a strikeout. Meyer threw four pitches -- all fastballs, all on the outer-half of the zone. While the umpire did not agree that the first one was a strike, the next three were placed in the same spot and were all deemed strikes. At that speed, in that location, the hitter stood little chance of doing anything.
In his final outing before being recalled to Minnesota, Meyer worked effectively against the Pawtucket Red Sox. Despite allowing an inherited run to score, he was locating his 95+ fastball with precision and deploying a large breaking ball that buckled several knees. Rather than just throwing the curve when up in the count, Meyer also used it to get ahead of hitters and in even-count situations, making him and his fastball even more difficult to hit. Between the two pitches Meyer looked every bit the part of a major league shutdown reliever.
In all Meyer has the raw stuff to be dominant at times. Most critical is working ahead of hitters. Even in relief, he showed signs of struggling to locate his fastball and was occasionally helped by opponents who would chase pitches.
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