That is what I asked Dave Borkowski, pitching coach for the Lexington Legends, when I interviewed him on Saturday regarding the slow starts of Kyle Hallock and Tanner Bushue. On Tuesday, the club announced that Hallock and Bushue were being sent back to extended spring training. So, what is going on?
LHP Kyle Hallock was 3-4 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.216 WHIP over 13 starts at Tri-City last season. After five starts at Lexington, he is 1-1 with a 11.50 ERA and a 2.667 WHIP. When asked about Hallock's start Borkowski stated simply, "Lack of confidence," an assessment shared by Hallock himself when I posed the question to Kyle.
Borkowski noted that, although Hallock's stuff isn't overwhelming, he saw him pitch three or four times in Spring Training and really liked him and liked his approach. "... he competed. He had no fear. He attacked the zone and pitched to contact." What happened? "He got here and now he didn't want to throw a ball over the plate. Deep counts, walks, and then sooner or later you've got to throw a strike and [if] it's not quality ... So if he gets the confidence, he's going to be all right."
I believe that Kyle will turn it around. His stuff may not be overpowering, but he knew how to pitch last season and he'll figure out how to pitch again effectively.
RHP Tanner Bushue is another story. He struggled last season with injuries, but in 16 starts at Lexington, he was 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.370 WHIP. Over 6 games at Lexington this season (3 starts), he is 0-3 with an 18.82 ERA and a 3.000 WHIP. In discussing the situation with Borkowski, it is apparent that Bushue's mechanics are totally off-kilter, but from personal observation I would say that his struggles are now as much mental as mechanical.
When I asked about Bushue, Borkowski had this to say, "What is going on with Tanner? Tanner just hasn't executed. He's been flat. He's been up in the zone. [He] didn't have the good angle he had on the ball last year when he was healthy, and his velocity is down and he's paid the price for it." In discussing his last start, Borkowski said, "There wasn't much life there and he pitched behind. You don't throw a breaking ball for a strike, all they're going to do is sit on your fastball and when you're throwing it belt high ... they're going to hit it."
John Matlack, the roving pitching coordinator for the Astros was in Lexington while I was there and he and Borkowski were working with Bushue on making a couple of adjustments to generate a little more power and direction on the ball.
I don't think that a trip back to extended spring training will hurt Bushue at all as he works through these issues. Getting him out of the direct spotlight should help. And at only 20 years of age, the #12 prospect in the organization (according to Jonathan Mayo of MLB) still has plenty of time to work things out.