Tampa Bay Rays pitching coordinator Dewey Robinson was in Charlotte recently, working with the Stone Crabs pitching staff. While he was there, he and Charlotte pitching coach Bill Moloney went to work on left-hander Felipe Rivero.
Entering Saturday, Rivero had a 6.43 ERA over four starts in his first season in the Florida State League. His arm slot was out of whack and his usually strong fastball command was wavering. As a result, the rest of his game was coming apart.
Robinson and Moloney tried getting Rivero back to the basics and, as Moloney said, "[On Saturday], he basically just took that and ran with it."
The Rays' No. 18 prospect struck out six and allowed one hit over six scoreless innings in the Stone Crabs' 2-1 road loss to the Fort Myers Miracle.
"We were working on getting [Rivero] taller in his delivery and getting his arm in proper position," Moloney said of the bullpen sessions. "He was starting to get around a lot of his pitches.
"He kept himself in a good frame of mind, where he doesn't think he needs to throw 95 or 96 [mph] on every pitch. He can succeed at 92, 93."
The 21-year-old Venezuelan pitched only 1 2/3 innings in his first start April 5, allowing four runs -- one earned -- on four hits with no strikeouts. He bounced back with a three-run, five-inning outing on April 11 against Brevard County but stumbled against St. Lucie five days later as the Mets roughed him up for seven runs -- five earned -- on five hits over 3 1/3 innings.
Rivero made progress in his next start on April 21, fanning seven and allowing an unearned run over four innings against St. Lucie. The ground-ball pitcher induced just one groundout against four fly-ball outs, however.
Against Fort Myers, Rivero returned to the form that made him a 2012 Futures Game participant. The Miracle boast the FSL's best offense, led by Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Those two rank first and eighth, respectively, among Twins prospects.
Sano leads all Minor Leaguers with nine home runs and tops the FSL with a 1.159 OPS. Moloney referred to the 19-year-old as a "man-child," but Rivero struck him out in both of their encounters Saturday.
"[Rivero] was just kind of aggressive with him," Moloney said. "He threw him some fastballs and basically expanded the strike zone. Sano got himself out a couple of times swinging at some bad pitches. He worked the fastball and his changeup works off that, and he got Sano once on that."
Rivero handled Rosario nearly as well. The second baseman was hitting .344 with an .875 OPS but popped out, struck out and flied to center field in three at-bats against the 2012 Midwest League midseason All-Star.
As much as anything, prospects spend time in the Minors to learn how to make adjustments. Moloney was impressed by how Rivero altered his mechanics and approach prior to facing Fort Myers.
"I think he proved tonight he has the aptitude to take that early work and take it into the game," Moloney said. "Hopefully, he's able to maintain that. He's shown the ability to make adjustments in the past. Sometimes you get a little out of synch and things go haywire, and I think that kind of happened with him. He just needed to get back to basics."
The Stone Crabs had a 1-0 lead when Rivero exited, but the Miracle knotted it in the eighth on Angel Morales' RBI double.
Sano, Kennys Vargas and Kyle Knudson all walked in the ninth, loading the bases for Morales, who also got a free pass from Jacob Patridge to force in the winning run.
Rehabbing Rays DH Luke Scott went 1-for-4 and drove in Charlotte's lone run with a third-inning single. He's 2-for-13 with two RBIs in four games with the Stone Crabs.