Over the last few months, Class A West Virginia pitching coach Drew Benes has worked with Pirates No. 17 prospect Luis Escobar on getting his delivery and release point to sync up in one fluid motion.
All of the extra practice is translating into solid results on the field.
Escobar allowed three hits and four walks while striking out nine over 6 2/3 scoreless innings to lead the Power to a 6-3 win over Delmarva on Saturday night at Appalachian Power Park.
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"Especially with him, we've been focusing on his glove," Benes said of the 21-year-old right-hander. "When he controls his front side of his delivery he's able to stay on line toward the catcher and execute his pitches more often. That's been the main focus in his side sessions, throwing program and flat work. It's just been controlling that glove."
Escobar (9-5) encountered a rough patch in June when he logged a 6.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over five starts. But things turned around for the native of Colombia in July as he posted a 1.32 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and a .140 opponents' batting average in five outings. The month also included a trip to the All-Star Futures Game in Miami, where Escobar tossed a scoreless frame for the World squad.
But Benes has been particularly proud of the 6-foot-1, 155-pound hurler's last four starts in which he's yielded two runs in 25 innings.
"There's been consistent growth, he's been able to use in different ways -- pitching in for effect, elevating late in the count and obviously down and away," Benes said. "He's using his fastball as a weapon and will use it multiple ways, which is making his off-speed play up as well.
"One of the things with him, he's always ready to pitch. When that adrenaline gets going, he might try to do too much instead of trying to calm his body and relax and control his delivery. The effort's always going to be there. It's just going to be how well he controls it."
Keeping his body and glove in check, Escobar fanned six of the first seven batters he faced. He continued to stay effective around the zone, throwing 59 of 94 pitches for strikes.
Pitching around hits in the third and fourth, Escobar was in trouble in the fifth when he walked 20th-ranked Orioles prospect Milton Ramos and plunked Tanner Kirk. After getting Daniel Fajardo to fly out to center, Escobar walked Cole Billingsley after an eight-pitch at-bat to load the bases. The West Virginia starter then got Ryan McKenna to bounce out to third.
"He was super-efficient through his first four innings of work," Benes said. "For me, a big thing that we talk to all of our starters about is attacking hitters in three pitches or less and trying to be as efficient as you're working your way through the lineup and going deep into games.
"In that inning that he threw a little more pitches, he had some walks mixed in and he hit somebody. Stuff like that usually happens to him and it was the case tonight because he was flying open, kind of losing control of that front side and his glove. He's going to hit guys from time to time, that's what I told him, especially if you're going to pitch in for effect. I don't mind that, it's when the walks get sprinkled in. Just something we've worked on the staff as a whole, is trying to limit free bases."
Escobar hit Collin Woody in the sixth before allowing a leadoff single to Ramos in the seventh. Kirk flied out and Fajardo whiffed, but Billingsley reached on a four-pitch walk to close out Escobar's second straight game in which he pitched into the seventh.
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"He's continuing the work and translate it into games," Benes said. "He's a great kid. He loves to have fun but he also works hard. With the focus being where it's been this year and to see steady growth, especially over his last four, I couldn't be more happy for him. It's fun to work with him, a fun kid to be around."
Matt Eckelman surrendered three runs and five hits over 1 1/3 innings before before Pasquale Mazzoccoli pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his first Minor League save.
No. 16 Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz, who was acquired July 31 in a trade with the Dodgers, went deep as part of a three-hit, three-RBI game. Albert Baur added a two-run homer for the Power.