On Saturday, the Twins' 2013 first round draft pick, Kohl Stewart, had his last start of the first half of the season for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
He was originally scheduled to pitch on Sunday, but had his start moved up a day so that he'd have two days of rest before Tuesday's Midwest League All-Star game. Stewart completed four shutout innings, throwing 69 pitches at Burlington hitters before calling it a night. The innings weren't perfectly clean, however. Stewart worked out of a bit of trouble in both the third and fourth innings.
After the game, Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga explained Stewart's abbreviated start went as planned.
“That was the plan,” Arteaga said. “If he was going to pitch on regular rest, his regular outing, was at 75-80 pitches. That was the plan for today, to keep him down so he could be able to throw in the All-Star Game.”
With the Kernels eliminated from contention for postseason qualification in the first half of the Midwest League season, Arteaga said it was important that Stewart be used in a way that he'd get an opportunity to pitch in Tuesday's MWL All-Star Game.
“He’s been on a pitch count all year, so we believed that in order for him to represent the Kernels and represent the Minnesota Twins and enjoy his time in the All-Star Game, he needed to be ready to pitch,” explained Arteaga. “We didn’t feel comfortable having him pitch on one day’s rest.”
Those plans were nearly waylayed in the fourth inning when a line drive deflected off of Stewart's hip in to right field. But Stewart remained in the game and got the final two outs of the inning before calling it a night.
Arteaga indicated he was happy with Stewart's night, as he has been with his season thus far.
“He got hit a little bit and the ball deflected off of him on the right hip. But he should be fine. He went four innings. He managed to put zeros up there. He's been doing that.
“We're very happy with his performance and the way he's handled himself. He had a heck of a first half and we hope he can continue doing that.”
Stewart talked to reporters after the game and answered questions on a number of topics, including his performance on Saturday, his All-Star break plans and just how important strikeouts are (or aren't) to him at this point.
On the line drive that caught him on the hip:
“I think I got it just right where I was turning. Tried to avoid it. Just grazed me.”
On moving his start up a day:
“Yeah they bumped me up. They wanted me to throw in the All-Star Game.
“I was switched from the day before (the All-Star break), so I figured I wouldn't (be able to pitch in the All-Star Game), but they made it a priority for me pitch in that game.
"That was the plan, to treat that (Tuesday) as my bullpen day. Hopefully, I can bounce back after two days (rest). I've never done that before. I don't think it's a problem.”
On going home after the All-Star Game before re-joining the Kernels:
"They want me to go see a diabetes doctor and this is the only time I can really do it. So I'll probably fly out of West Michigan to home, go see my doctor, then meet them in Kane County.
"I don't think I'll make a start there. I think I'll maybe start in Peoria, the next road trip. We have another off day between those two trips so that gives me enough time to catch back up. So I'm going to be gone for about six days I guess.”
Stewart was asked if the doctor visit is indicative of problems with his diabetes:
“No, no, no. It's just you're supposed to see a doctor every three months now and I haven't seen one since spring training. So the whole time, we were looking at the All-Star break as the time when I would go do that.
"I'm just going to go home and see my original doctor. It's just something you've got to do every three months. That's just kind of the easiest time to do it.”
Stewart's fastball consistently registered 93-94 on the Kernels' scoreboard on Saturday. The board is generally considered to register about 2 mph below actual pitch speed. He was asked if he felt he has added a bit of velocity recently.
“The hardest thing for me right now is, I think I can reach back and get that when I want it, but it's not the (priority). I want to get ahead, get 0-1, get 0-2. I think the velo is pretty normal. That gun out there (on the Cedar Rapids scoreboard) is pretty inconsistent.
“That's the thing I'm kind of trying to handle right now is when to go get it and when to not. When to get ahead of guys and when to put them away with that fastball, because I should be able to.
"Honestly, I knew I was on kind of a super low pitch count today so I was trying to get guys out.
"When guys got on base, I was paying way too much attention to runners. Me and Ivan talked about it. I was trying to look guys back and trying to pitch all in the same motion and I wasn't even really picking up my target and making the pitch.
“But it was good to get out of those two innings. It's going to happen every now and then. That was a big double play that Vielma and Walker turned in that fourth inning.
"Then to get out of that third inning, too, without any runs and keep us in the game was big. I wish I hadn't thrown as many pitches in that short of time.”
Finally, there has been some concern among a segment of the fan base with regard to Stewart's modest strikeout rate this summer. He was asked how important strikeouts are to him.
“I don't know how important they are but it's a number that everybody's going to look at. That's the thing that me and Ivan are working on right now actually, because I've had a lot of guys where I want them. It's just about making that one pitch.
“I think I have those pitches that I need that get guys to strike out with. It's about throwing the slider in the right spot. It's not just about throwing the slider as hard as I can and getting guys out with it.
“People are going to want to see more of it, but as a pitcher trying to keep my feet in the game, it's not something I should be paying attention to. I think that the more I work with him, the more those types of things will come, but I can't really worry about it on the mound. That's not really what I'm trying to do.
“I'm a guy that's kind of is going to pound the zone and ask you to put the ball in play before I start worrying about trying to pitch around guys. But as long as I keep getting guys out, people pushing the ball in to the ground, it's just as good in my opinion. That's one thing I've learned, is how to be efficient and put guys away.
“It's funny, whenever me and Garver (Kernels catcher Mitch Garver) want to put a guy away, we can. Then we do. But then guys come up and it's all about pounding the zone and getting ahead and if they want to get themselves out, let them get themselves out.
“That's a number people are going to look at and want me to strike more guys out. I understand that. But I think the more that me and (Ivan) work at it, the more it will come.”