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Kahnle racking up impressive strikeout numbers

Reliever credits shortened leg kick for dominance
MLB.com @scottmerkin

DETROIT -- Based on the WWE-like championship belt often times hanging in his locker, White Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle repeatedly has delivered Stone Cold stunners to opposing hitters during the first month of the 2017 season.

For those less familiar with the professional wrestling vernacular, the right-hander has been utterly dominant and darn near unhittable.

View Full Game Coverage

DETROIT -- Based on the WWE-like championship belt often times hanging in his locker, White Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle repeatedly has delivered Stone Cold stunners to opposing hitters during the first month of the 2017 season.

For those less familiar with the professional wrestling vernacular, the right-hander has been utterly dominant and darn near unhittable.

View Full Game Coverage

Kahnle pitched the eighth inning during Saturday at Comerica Park against the Tigers, called upon to protect a two-run lead. He struck out the side, giving him an astonishing 19 strikeouts out of 33 batters faced against one walk, and his 19 strikeouts per nine innings leads all American League relievers. He has struck out at least one hitter in each of his 10 outings this season and struck out at least two in seven.

Throwing strikes stands as the underlying key to the emergence of Kahnle, who had struggled with control at every stop previously. But the 27-year-old points to two other reasons for his numbers.

"I have a shortened version of my leg kick," Kahnle. "It started to get my arm out quicker and helped get me out in front and not be behind the ball.

"Then I noticed a little better focus, I guess. And keeping my head on line was also a big benefit. Focused on the target."

That focus aspect began for Kahnle when he was reassigned to Triple-A Charlotte out of Spring Training. The move followed his strong finish to the 2016 season with the White Sox, as he posted a 0.68 ERA (two earned runs over 26 2/3 innings) and 37 strikeouts over his last 27 games.

"He was improving actually toward the end of the last season," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "He came into this spring, we talked a lot, [pitching coach Don Cooper] and [bullpen coach Curt Hasler], the guys talked a lot about trying to stay down in the zone a little bit more.

"I know they worked on it significantly in terms of controlling his approach, his mechanics. He's worked very hard and he's focused and as he's continued to pitch, he's gotten more and more comfortable. Really hammering the strike zone. He's starting to see his stuff plays very, very well."

Among pitchers having thrown at least 50 four-seam fastballs in '17, Kahnle's 98.1 mph average ranks third behind Aroldis Chapman (99.4) and Trevor Rosenthal (99.1) per Statcast™. But being able to harness that fastball helps his secondary pitches play as well, for a man whose stuff does not belong in the Minors according to Cooper.

"It's awesome to watch," pitcher Derek Holland said. "I was in here [in the clubhouse) doing my shoulder stuff and saw one of his pitches and I said, 'What is that? A slider?' And it was, 'No, that was 98.' It cut clear across the plate. He has good stuff and he showed it."

"As long as I can keep replicating this every time out, I feel good: as long as I'm throwing strikes," Kahnle said. "This is what I've always wanted was to pitch the back end of the games. I did a little bit when I was with Colorado but now getting a few more chances here which is nice. I like it."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Tommy Kahnle