New Orleans Zephyrs pitcher Chris Hatcher was chosen to represent the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A All-Star game, an accomplishment in which he takes particular pride because not many closers are selected.
However, Hatcher was replaced by Zephyrs reliever Zach Phillips on Monday for the July 17 game after Hatcher was called up Sunday by the major league Miami Marlins. Hatcher allowed six runs on four hits in the the 14th inning of the Braves’ 7-1 win Monday and was sent back to New Orleans.
This was Hatcher’s third time being called up, and he lasted 11 games with the Marlins both times before.
Zephyrs pitching coach Charlie Corbell said he thinks Hatcher has a chance to stay in the majors soon.
“I think he’s more prepared this go-round,” Zephyrs pitching coach Charlie Corbell said. “He was much better last year, numberswise, but pitch-ability-wise and using his secondary stuff and doing things to calm down a good hitter, he’s a much better pitcher than he was last year.”
His numbers are impressive this season, too. Hatcher has converted 24 of 25 save opportunities, leading all of minor league baseball in saves, and he is first in the PCL in appearances, with 39. He is 1-2, but has a 2.76 ERA in 45.2 innings, striking out 45.
Hatcher also said he’s a much better pitcher this year.
“Last year, I would consider myself a thrower,” he said. “Last year, I threw a fastball, a slider, a changeup, but there was really no method to the madness.
“I threw it as hard as I could throw it, and it was, ‘Here it is, hit it.’ It didn’t matter if it was a slider or fastball.
“This year, I’m working on actual pitching, not trying to blow it by everybody but actually letting pitches work.”
That has made for some struggles, he said, even though he has been very consistent this season. He’s been working on a split-finger fastball since spring training to go with his fastball, clocked at 92 mph and higher.
“I lot of people look at the numbers, and all they see if 24 out of 25,” he said. “I look at it as I’m out there working on things, trying to learn a new pitch, and some days, it’s just not there. It’s been a battle.
“Coming into a close game, it’s hard to get in there and try to work on something. My mentality is win, and that’s it. So I’m not necessarily going to go to my worst pitch or a pitch I’m working on in a crucial situation. So that’s been a roller-coaster for me.”
Having the urge to go at hitters, which he called that bulldog mentality, is something that is just in Hatcher. He attributes it to being a former catcher.
Hatcher, who pitched in high school and “a little bit in college” at UNC-Wilmington, was behind the plate with the Marlins in 2010 when they decided to switch him to the mound.
“It’s this thing called hitting, which is very hard to do,” he said. “I wasn’t a very successful hitter. Sliders ate me up pretty good. I could hit a fastball, but as I progressed, sliders got better and my eyes didn’t.”
Meanwhile, he was throwing lasers to second base when opponents tried to steal. “That’s one of the reasons I was converted,” he said, chuckling.
However, being a former catcher has helped on the mound, he said. As a catcher, he studied hitters from a different perspective. “I know when a guy is opening his hips too early,” he said. And, he said, “I don’t give hitters too much credit. If you beat me, you beat me.”
Hatcher is expected to be a short reliever with the Marlins. In the past few weeks, Hassey had been broadening Hatcher’s pitching appearances from just closing roles to more late short relief. Hassey said he was simply trying to give Hatcher more work.
Hatcher, however, looked much more dominant in his closer role than in nonsave outings.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said, “but if you look at a major league game, and a closer comes in an gets some work, it happens. It’s not just me. It’s all closers.
“It’s not like I’m going about it a different way; it’s just different.”
Corbell said it’s a matter of mindset.
“Their mindset is that this is their game (in closing situations),” Corbell said. “When you’re trained in anything, you get used to a situation, and your awareness gets a little sharper when it’s that situation.
“But at this level, you’ve got to be able to do what the manager asks you to do. There’s been some situations where we used him in four- or five-inning games where he hadn’t thrown in a day or two. It’s just something he needs to get better at, and he is getting better at it. He recognizes he’s not going to walk into the big leagues as a closer.”
Hatcher has gotten better, it seems, as the season has worn on. He had a 1.42 ERA in June in 12 games, 12.2 innings. He said the biggest thing he has learned, regarding consistency, is how to be good on his bad days.
“That’s what separates guys up there from guys in Triple-A,” he said.
An improved changeup, for one, has helped.
“My changeup has taken a big leap this year,” he said. “I’ve probably thrown it less than I did last year because I’ve been trying to work the splitter in. But I’ve thrown (the changeup) in crucial situations and gotten some key outs with it. Some days, it just ducks and dives, and I’m like, ‘Wow. Where’s that been?’ ”