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 Mud Hens' Below nearly unhittable

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PostSubject: Mud Hens' Below nearly unhittable   Sat May 14, 2011 11:47 am



Duane Below is 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA in five starts since April 16. (Toledo Mud Hens)


Mud Hens' Below nearly unhittable
Tigers prospect allows solo homer, fans six in seven innings
By David Heck / Special to MLB.com
05/14/2011 1:11 AM ET

Duane Below was uncomfortable early in his start Friday night, struggling to find his rhythm and mechanics. Before long, though, he figured it out.

Below allowed one run on one hit over seven innings for his fourth win in five starts as the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens edged the Gwinnett Braves, 2-1.


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"It's always good to keep the team in the ballgame and give the team a chance to win," he said. "I wasn't necessarily comfortable at the beginning -- I just tried to push through with as many strikes as I could. I'm definitely happy with how it worked out."

The only blemish on Below's performance came in the second inning, when Brandon Hicks took a pitch over the left-field fence for his second homer of the season.

"It was a breaking ball that stayed up in the zone," Below said. "He got a good piece of the bat on it. ... He hit it well -- I was just hoping it stayed in the park. [Left fielder Scott] Thorman almost got it, it seemed from the mound. [Hicks] took advantage and got it up.

"So I just tried to make sure when I did throw breaking balls, I didn't leave it up as much as I did."

Following the homer, Below retired 14 of the next 15 batters. The 25-year-old left-hander said a talk with pitching coach A.J. Sager helped him settle down.

"I was rushing to the plate and I was opening up. I wasn't very accurate," he explained. "Between innings, A.J. ... talked to me about slowing down and making sure everything was ready before going to the strike zone."

After compiling a 7.00 ERA in his first two outings of the season, Below (4-1) has made five consecutive quality starts, allowing no more than two runs in any of them. In his last start on May 8, he limited Charlotte to a run on two hits while striking out 11 over eight innings.

"I've got to give it to our staff and our defense," Below said. "Our defense has made some great plays behind me. Teams have hit the ball hard and the defense has made plays.

"And A.J., we had a talk and he said I had to relax and let some air out. He said, 'You've been playing baseball for a long time. Just go out and attack, don't try to make a perfect pitch every time.' I think I was trying to be too perfect instead of doing what I do -- attack the strike zone and get them to put it in play early in the count."

A 19th-round pick in the 2006 Draft, Below said undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009 played a vital role in his development as a pitcher.

"That was something that helped me in my career so far -- to be able to notice things I needed to work on, like my mechanics," he added. "I rehabbed over and over. For nine months, that's all you do, continue the same things. I think that helped me a lot become who I am today."

While he's pitching well at Triple-A, only one stop away from the Majors, Below said he is not concerning himself with a potential callup.

"I try really hard not to [think about it]," he said. "I don't want it to get in my way because I'm here in Toledo and we have a good team here. If I do get the opportunity, I'm going to try to take advantage when that happens, but I don't want to worry now. If I do worry, there's nothing I can do until it happens. I just want to continue to do my best here and keep the team in it."

David Heck is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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