Pitcher Keynan Middleton's rise through the Los Angeles Angels' farm system came quickly once he made a move to the bullpen. The switch made his approach to the game easier and forced him to remain focused on every batter, which he believes has helped him.
The 23-year-old with a fastball that reaches the high 90s was a starter his first three seasons in the Angels' system. Last season, he made the switch to the bullpen and advanced from High-A to Triple-A, earning the Angels' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the process.
"That's the best part about it — the switch, to me — as a starter you start that one day and then you wait those next days until your next start," Middleton said. "I don't really like that because I'm only locked in one day out of the week. Now as a reliever, I have to sit there and I have to watch the swings these people are taking during the game. I have to pretty much stay locked in the whole time so that when I go in, I'm not making the same mistakes that somebody else makes in the beginning of the game."
Last season, Middleton posted a 3.41 ERA, converted all eight of his save opportunities, struck out 88 batters in 66 innings and held opposing hitters to a .196 batting average in 46 appearances. Last year in Salt Lake, he allowed eight runs and 14 hits in 14 2/3 innings, walked four and allowed a .250 batting average against in his first eight Triple-A appearances.
Middleton mainly works off his fastball and slider, thought he'll mix in a changeup. Not having to worry about pitching to a lineup two or three times has "simplified" things.
"I'm still trying to hone my stuff in, and I'm still trying to control it," Middleton said. "That's pretty much it. I'm just going out there with my two pitches and competing the best I can for one, two innings instead of five, six."
Even after moving to the bullpen, Middleton said he remains focused on getting a consistent feel for his changeup.
Four of his six outings this season have been more than one inning, including two two-inning appearances. Bees manager Keith Johnson said during the Bees' first homestand that the multiple-inning outings will remain part of the plan for Middleton.
Pitching more than one inning also allows Middleton more experience, more innings and the chance to work on more pitches in an outing.
"The biggest thing is to repeat things and to find good spots in the zone with his fastball, know when to throw his breaking ball and make sure that he can command it," Johnson said. "It's all those things that are going to make him a pitcher instead of a thrower. [He is] a guy that can really throw hard, but if you can't command the ball they're going to find that out in a hurry at the big-league level.
"Last year, he did a very good job coming up. Spring training, he had a few lumps or a few rough outings that he had to work himself through. Same thing here so far this year early in the season, but last night after the first two guys go on he was as crisp as I've ever seen him."