Minor seeking answers after 3-homer start

June 26th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO --  has spent much of his 2022 season searching for answers. His most recent outing didn't make anything more clear for the veteran starter.

Minor's early-season struggles continued on Saturday, as the Reds dropped a 9-2 game to the Giants at Oracle Park. His ERA went up nearly a full run -- from 6.97 to 7.71 -- as he surrendered a season-high six runs on eight hits over five innings.

"I know he's doing everything he can," manager David Bell said. "He just wasn't able to execute the pitches the way he knows he needs to. And all you can do is continue to search, continue to work, and I know he's doing that -- but I know it's frustrating for him also."

The long ball in particular stung Minor on Saturday, as he gave up a season-high-tying three homers to Giants batters. It wasn't an issue of his pitches getting too much of the plate, he said, but rather something else.

"Too much barrel," Minor said. "I think the Joc [Pederson] one was a bad pitch. [Thairo] Estrada was where I wanted to throw it. And [Evan Longoria] was a hanging curveball."

Minor has struggled to keep the ball down in 2022. His fly-ball rate entering Saturday was 38.2%, which is notably higher than his career mark of 27.6%. It's a small sample size, as Minor has only made five appearances this season, but there have been clear consequences: Minor has allowed 10 home runs in 25 2/3 innings. He allowed a career-high 30 homers in 2019, but those were scattered across 200-plus frames.

The round-trippers Minor allowed on Saturday came on his four-seamer and his knuckle curve, but Minor said he's especially struggling with a feel for his changeup. Opposing batters are hitting the pitch much harder this season -- in 2021, the average exit velocity against Minor's changeup was 83.9 mph. This season, it's 92.1 mph.

"That’s usually my best pitch," Minor said. "That probably helps out the ground-ball rate. It seems like every time I throw it, it’s in the middle of the plate, and it’s not moving down and away like I want it to."

Minor is not the only Reds starter struggling with the long ball. Cincinnati's rotation has given up 61 home runs in 2022, which is tied with Washington for the most allowed in the Majors. And it's not just the starters -- the Reds' pitching staff's 100 home runs allowed trail only the Nationals (101).

It's been an unusual season for Minor. The Reds acquired the 34-year-old from the Royals in exchange for reliever Amir Garrett at the beginning of Spring Training. Minor hit the injured list with a shoulder injury soon after, delaying his season debut until June 3.

The veteran left-hander was expected to bring experience to a young rotation that includes rookies Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft, as well as top prospect Nick Lodolo, once he recovers from a lower back strain. If Minor can work through his early issues, he could offer a valuable lesson in resilience.

"Mike's been very successful in his career," Bell said, "and I do think that's a different type of frustration because he knows he's good enough, and he knows what he wants to do and what he needs to do. I think it's very frustrating for him because he knows what he's capable of doing. He should feel no extra pressure because of being a new guy here or anything like that. I think he just wants to contribute and be as good as he can be."

Sometimes it takes awhile for pitchers to find their groove. For now, Minor is still searching.

"Every time when I’m throwing the pitches, I can tell it’s not right," Minor said. "We’ve been changing it each week, and it still doesn’t feel like it’s the right tempo or the right arm action, pushing with my leg. I’m trying everything when usually, it just comes natural.

"Baseball is kind of natural when you’re at this level. You kind of figure it out, and right now I can’t."