FREDERICK -- A healthy and confident Branden Kline allowed only an unearned run and three hits in seven innings Thursday in High-A Frederick’s 5-4 win over Myrtle Beach.
Kline, a Frederick native who was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Virginia, picked up a no-decision after former first-round pick Matt Hobgood allowed three runs in relief. The Keys walked off winners when catcher Wynston Sawyer doubled off the wall in the bottom of the ninth to score Creede Simpson.
Kline, 6 feet 3, needed just eight pitches to get through a clean first inning. Utilizing an over-the-top, clean delivery, Kline worked down in the zone with a four-seam fastball that sat between 91-93 mph and occasionally reached 94 mph. He effectively located the pitch inside to right-handers in Myrtle Beach's potent lineup, which Kline said is a “huge pitch.”
“It helps out a lot to be able to split the plate into two halves with the fastball, instead of having to use two different pitches to get the guys out,” Kline said. “You can locate a fastball low and in, then go away, or double up in. It’s working a lot, just making sure hitters aren’t diving over the plate, getting weak contact and getting them out as soon as possible.”
After a five-pitch walk in the second inning, Kline again buckled down and needed just five pitches to get out of the inning. In the second, Kline introduced his slider, a pitch he threw with varying success in the outing. At the lowest reaches of its velocity, around 80-81 mph, the pitch occasionally hung up in the zone and lacked horizontal break. When thrown at 83 mph, the pitch had more sweeping break out of the zone.
Myrtle Beach’s only damage off Kline came in the third, when after a leadoff single, Kline fielded a groundball but threw the ball into the Frederick bullpen to put runners on second and third with no outs. The next batter, Odubel Herrera, flew out to center field, but a run scored. Otherwise, Kline got out of the inning without trouble.
Kline picked up his first strikeout of the game on an 85-mph changeup with one on and one out in the fourth, and he went on to retire the next nine before running into his last spell of trouble in the seventh. Kline held his velocity into the seventh, but his control wavered a bit with two down in the inning. He walked shortstop Hanser Alberto and gave up a broken-bat bloop single to left field before a fielder's choice ended the inning.
Kline threw 93 pitches, 59 for strikes, in an outing that has helped cement this season as a return to the form he showed at Virginia. He lowered his ERA to 2.48, a marked improvement on the 5.86 ERA he posted in 2013 in Low-A Delmarva. That season, however, was cut short by an ankle injury in May, and Kline did not return for the rest of the Shorebirds' season.
He made 10 appearances in the Arizona Fall League to get some innings under his belt, an experience Kline said told him he would be ready for a successful 2014.
“Once I showed up to spring training, it was really smooth sailing,” Kline said. “I really knew, after going out to Arizona, that I could get hitters out in the strike zone. I didn’t have to nitpick around the zone. From day one of spring training, I was trying to attack guys, and it’s working so far.”