Jay Witasick describes his pitching style as if it were a curse.
"It'd be easier on me if everyone just hit the first pitch," said Witasick, a 1990 graduate of C. Milton Wright. "But if it gets
down to two strikes, I'm going to try and punch them out. But I don't try and strike out guys."
Although he might not be trying, it seems Witasick has stumbled upon a number of those two-strike situations.
At UMBC, Witasick was second in the nation in strikeouts. In three pro seasons, he has struck out 354 batters in 317 2/3 innings -- that's 10 per nine innings.
Witasick, a second-round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1993, led the Single-A Florida State League with 109 strikeouts before being promoted to the Double-A Arkansas Travelers on July 19.
"Jay does tend to get strikeout-happy at times, no doubt about it," said Chris Maloney, who managed Witasick for most of the year for the Single-A St. Petersburg Cardinals. "It's a maturing process. Nobody is a finished product, and that's why they are down here. Looking at his stuff, though, he has a way of missing bats. You can't discount that."
Witasick manages to avoid bats with his two power pitches -- the fastball and slider. His fastball, describe by Maloney as "above average," ranges from 85 to 88 mph.
The problem for batters is that his slider is not far from the speed of his fastball, clocking in at 82 to 84 mph. His slider, which Witasick developed during instructional league last year, appears to be a fastball before breaking when it reaches the hitter.
"He has the stuff and arm to be a big-league pitcher," Maloney said. "The key to Jay is when he's got an average fastball, he has to move the ball up and down more. Then he has the tendency to hang his slider. His slider is his money pitch. When he's got that going, he's a tough pitcher."
Witasick demonstrated this toughness by winning his last three starts with St. Petersburg to even his record at 7-7 and lower his ERA to 2.74.
But the transition to Double-A Arkansas hasn't been smooth.
In six starts with the Travelers, Witasick is 2-3 and has a 5.87 ERA. He has given up 37 hits and struck out 22 in 30 2/3 innings.
"In A ball, I could pitch a fastball off the plate and have players swing," Witasick said. "Hitters in this league are more selective. They won't chase anything up in the zone."
Besides location, Witasick and Maloney have talked in length about working on a third pitch to complement his power-pitching style.
Just like last year, Witasick will devote the off-season to one pitch. This time, it's a changeup.
"His two pitches right now are two power pitches, and there's not much difference in speed," Maloney said. "Once he gets a changeup, it only has to be a bit slower to make the batters start guessing. That will make his slider and fastball that much more effective, too."
His development of the changeup could be the most decisive variable in Witasick's advancing to the major leagues.
"You can get to this league [Texas] on just a fastball, and I know that," Witasick said. "I think I just have to get all my pitches over more consistently. This league is not my ending point."
Resides: Bel Air
Team: Double-A Arkansas, St. Louis Cardinals
Drafted: Second round in June 1993
High school: C. Milton Wright
Pitches: Fastball and slider
Developing pitch: Changeup
1% Projected arrival in majors: 1997
Year Club .. .. .. ..IP .. W-L .. .. ERA
John.City .. .. 67 2/3 ..4-3 .. .. 4.12
.. ..Savannah.. .. ..6 .. .1-0 .. .. 4.50
1994 Madison .. .. ..112 1/3 .10-4 .. ..2.32
St. Peters .. ..105 ..7-7 .. .. 2.74
Arkansas.. .. .. .. .30 2/3 ..2-3 .. .. 5.87