Carolina notes: Flores finds inside track

Dash left-hander getting comfortable working both sides of plate

Bernando Flores leads the Carolina League with 63 2/3 innings pitched and ranks 10th in ERA at 2.69. (James Geiser/Winston-Salem Dash)

By Damien Sordelett / Special to MiLB.com | June 6, 2018 11:45 AM

It was the shortest start of Bernardo Flores' season, but it also was the night things began to click for the Winston-Salem Dash southpaw.

When Flores stepped off the mound for the final time against Salem on April 22, he felt he took a step forward in his development. It wasn't centered on the results -- he pitched a season-low five innings -- but focused on what he was able to do consistently against the Red Sox.

He was able to effectively pitch inside and build upon a strength he has been developing since the Chicago White Sox selected him in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft.

"My bigger strengths are to pitch inside. I would feel comfortable going inside a lot," Flores said. "That's something that I didn't quite have a lot, I would say last August. … Down and away was a big thing and allowed me to have success. I combined that along with my strengths of going inside and challenging guys on the inside corner, inside portion of the plate, and it's been pretty solid so far I would say."

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Flores began using the low-and-away approach last season in his first full year in the White Sox organization. The emphasis was to start the pitching sequence down and away from the batters before coming inside with a fastball or changeup.

The 22-year-old Flores delivered several solid outings after he was promoted to Winston-Salem late last season, but he wasn't able to consistently complete the process of starting low and away and finishing with an out on the inside part of the plate.

He discovered that consistency in his late April start this season against Salem with his ability to effectively throw inside, and it has helped transform his season.

Flores has a four-pitch arsenal of fastball, changeup, cutter and curveball, and he is most effective when pitching inside and getting groundouts.

In Flores' 10 starts this season, opposing batters have recorded 111 ground balls, 47 fly balls, 36 line drives and eight infield fly balls, meaning Flores has been able to jam batters inside and force them to roll over instead of getting under the pitches to get them in the air.

The former University of Southern California product ranks second to Potomac's Sterling Sharp in ground ball and fly ball percentages in the Carolina League at 54.6 and 27 percent, respectively, and Flores is ninth in infield fly ball percentage at 17 percent.

In three of his past four starts, Flores has gotten at least 14 ground balls, including a staggering 19 in his eight-inning outing May 31 at Myrtle Beach.

The Pelicans only recorded two fly balls and three line drives against the 6-foot-3, 170-pound left-hander.

"It's a great confidence booster," Flores said.

His success comes from his focus on consistency developed during the offseason, and a simplified and repeatable delivery he and Dash pitching coach Matt Zaleski worked on after his third start this season against Down East.

Flores leads the Carolina League with 63 2/3 innings pitched, and he ranks 10th in ERA at 2.69, just ahead of teammate and White Sox No. 5 prospect Dylan Cease.

He has also not issued a walk in 18 2/3 consecutive innings.

"Last year, I was at the point where I was trying to get a feel for the league, feel for the level. Everybody obviously has a really good approach up here," Flores said. "These guys take a lot more pitches, the zone gets a little tighter, all these little factors that come into play. It just made me kind of want to strive to be a little bit better in terms of putting everything where I want to be -- not be cute, but execute quality pitches each and every time. So far, with the experience I kind of got last year, seeing what it's like, what it's going to be like, then coming into this season, OK, I've been here, I've done it, and it's just time to execute really. It's time to execute and be consistent."

In brief

Putting a Burt on the ball: Strikeouts have been a big issue for Wilmington Blue Rocks second baseman D.J. Burt the past two seasons. He has racked up 209 in that span while posting on-base percentages of .335 and .347, respectively. The fourth-round selection from the 2014 Draft is starting to see the ball better in his second go-around in the Carolina League. Burt has struck out only once in his last 34 at-bats and has raised his batting average from .290 to .307.

Not sacrificing power for speed: Osvaldo Duarte has been flashing his speed ever since he joined the Houston Astros organization out of the Dominican Republic in 2014 -- he had 19 triples spanning five different teams in four seasons -- but now he's proving to be a run producer as well. Duarte leads the Carolina League with six triples and has driven in 23 runs with Buies Creek, one shy of matching the most he's had with one team in a single season. He drove in 24 runs in 36 games with Class A Lancaster in 2016.

Intriguing power-hitting prospect: Anderson Tejeda may only be 20 years old, but the Down East shortstop is hitting like a slugger in his first season at the Class A Advanced level. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Tejeda leads the Carolina League with 43 RBIs to go with nine homers and 11 doubles. He has driven in 183 runs in 290 Minor League games, but he has also struck out a whopping 319 times. Tejeda's 65 strikeouts are third most in the Carolina League.

Damien Sordelett is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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