CHICAGO — The decision the Orioles made Saturday to send DL Hall back to Sarasota, Florida, with the goal of gaining strength — and by extension, velocity — is a byproduct of an injury suffered months earlier.
The left-handed pitching prospect is known for his blow-away fastball, but his average velocity this season in Triple-A is 93.5 mph. In Hall’s limited time with Baltimore last year, his four-seamer averaged 96.2 mph. The variation there first led to a de-escalation process that limited Hall’s pitch count with Triple-A Norfolk, and now it’s leading him to the Orioles’ Florida training complex to more fully focus on the weight room.
That’s where Hall generally finds himself throughout the offseason. But the lower back discomfort that nagged him this winter took Hall away from the weight room, and it has now taken him away — for the time being — from pitching live-game action.
“It was unfortunate that DL got hurt out of spring training,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton told The Baltimore Banner’s Jon Meoli. “It kind of took him a little longer to get back to who he was and this new plan to kind of intensify what they’ve been trying to get done with him while we’re here, send him down there where you don’t have to worry about going on the road and traveling and trying to use facilities that you don’t have the stuff to help, I think it’s going to be a benefit for him.”
In the time Hall spends at Baltimore’s Florida training complex, much of it will be spent in the weight room. He’ll still partake in live-game situations in throwing sessions on back fields, but much of his energy will be focused on gaining strength.
Hall pitched a season-high 98 pitches on May 10 for the Tides, but that’s around the time his average fastball velocity reached its nadir. In his first start that month, his fastball hovered around 92 mph. It was only marginally higher May 10, so the Orioles cut back Hall’s pitch count to 45 in his next start.
In his next five outings, Hall didn’t surpass 61 pitches by design.
“When we talk about being a power pitcher, you have to be powerful,” Tides pitching coach Justin Ramsey told Meoli on Friday, before Hall’s move to Florida. “This was all with the idea that it’s very hard to truly get into a strength phase in a season when you’re going out every five or six days, depending on how the rotation is working that week, and throwing 100 pitches. If you have a dollar’s worth of energy to use in a week, and you’re using 80 cents on pitching, you only have 20 in the weight room. It’s really hard to make gains with your strength, so we had to take from the pitching side of things.”
But the Orioles also noticed how Hall’s fastball velocity leveled out once more, despite the initial rise that came with a lower pitch count and more emphasis on strength training throughout his week. Hall reached a high mark around 94 mph on May 30 before it fractionally fell off in his two most recent starts.
That played a role in the decision to move Hall to the Florida complex. Away from the Triple-A game schedule, Hall will have more of an opportunity to intensify the physical work he’s already begun in Norfolk.
“It’s going up, but it’s been the same the last couple where the first few times we did it, you could see it going [up],” Ramsey said. “But again, it’s not going to be linear. We believe that as this continues, that’s going to also — you see the floor coming back up to where the average was and now, if we continue to see that bump, we’re getting the best version of him back.”
Without his best fastball, Hall has used his secondary pitches to better effect. That, at least, is a positive to come from all of this.
Hall’s changeup has forced a swing and miss on 45.7% of batters’ offerings so far. When hit in play, his curveball is forcing ground balls 60% of the time.
“As frustrating as it might be to not have 98 in the tank the way he’s always had,” Ramsey said, “learning how to pitch like this and then once he gets 98 back, it only makes things even better when it comes to that.”
Still, this latest development for Hall pushes back his return to Baltimore. The 24-year-old joined for one start against the Tampa Bay Rays last season, then returned later in the year as a reliever. He made one relief appearance for the Orioles this season, too.
He’s still in Baltimore’s long-term plans. Those plans are just making an unexpected midseason stop in Sarasota in an attempt to reinvigorate Hall’s fastball.
The Banner’s Jon Meoli contributed to this story from Norfolk, Virginia.