It's a very simple concept that has been echoed by sports legends from Muhammad Ali to Walter Johnson: you can't hit what you can't see. Brad Bass has tested this theory with terrific results in recent weeks for Class A West Michigan.
The Tigers prospect yielded one hit over six innings Friday as the Whitecaps blanked Bowling Green, 2-0, at Bowling Green Ballpark. He struck out five, extended hit scoreless streak to 21 2/3 innings and lowered his ERA to 4.24 in 17 Midwest League starts.
Bass said he's been effective in forcing hitters to adjust their eye level by challenging with the fastball to different parts of the strike zone before going to his breaking ball later in the count.
"It's something I've started trying to do over the past couple of outings," he explained in a text message. "Changing the hitter's vision at the plate. Really have been focusing on executing the inner half of the plate with the fastball."
Gameday box score
The 22-year-old began his hot streak with a seven-inning performance against South Bend on July 28, his first scoreless start since his second at the Class A level on April 22. He's followed that with consecutive one-hit outings, beginning last week in Great Lakes before Friday night's gem. Bass said that a diligent look at scouting reports before each start has helped him stay consistent.
"Sticking to a routine and really looking into hitters' tendencies," the Chicago native said. "Trying to focus on which guys I can execute a fastball in on and which guys to stay away with. Seeing if some guys will chase breaking balls. Just looking into the scouting report and attacking hitters' weaknesses. Also, just challenging them and trusting my defense to make the plays"
The recent success for the 2017 seventh-round pick has been a change of pace from an otherwise bumpy first experience in full-season ball. Bass' troubles can be outlined by an opponents' batting average that got as high as .301 in June; it's .259 after Friday's start.
He's also had some difficulty commanding the strike zone, issuing walks in all but two starts. But even his recent dominance has not been immune to this problem. He's allowed eight free passes in his past three starts and did not have a clean inning on Friday. He said this has often been the product of being unafraid to try and get hitters to chase as well as run-of-the-mill command issues.
"Sometimes I probably try to get hitters to chase more than I should and that can lead to them walking," he said. "But sometimes here and there just get away from you."
Bass walked Taylor Walls to begin the game and Rays No. 6 prospect Ronaldo Hernandez reached on an error by shortstop Anthony Pereira to put runners on the corners with two outs, but he fanned Moises Gomez on three pitches to end the threat. The University of Notre Dame product allowed nothing more to materialize after he made a throw wide of first on Emilio Gustave's combacker in the second.
Bass got himself out of trouble again with the strikeout in the third, getting Hernandez and Gomez to go down swinging after plunking Zach Rutherford and walking Carl Chester. Bass got a glove on Bowling Green's only hit -- an infield single to the right side by Trey Hair leading off the fourth -- and worked around a two-out walk in the fifth.
The right-hander walked Gomez to begin the sixth but got the next three outs on 10 pitches to conclude his evening. He threw 51 of 89 pitches for strikes before turning things over to right hander Johan Belisario.
Belisario (2-0) retired all nine batters he faced, fanning three for the win.
Jordan Pearce provided all of the game's scoring in the ninth with a two-run homer, his fifth. Garrett McCain chipped in three hits, including a double, for the Whitecaps.
Rays No. 22 prospect Tobias Myers allowed four hits and two walks with six strikeouts over seven scoreless frames for Bowling Green.