FREDERICK — It’s perhaps coincidental that High-A Frederick left-hander DL Hall has had his best run of success since pitching a perfect inning in the Futures Game alongside baseball’s top rung of young talent. But to hear the Orioles’ top pitching prospect talk about the experience he had during All-Star festivities in Cleveland, it’s clear he took something with impact away from it.
“That just creates competitiveness,” Hall said after his start Thursday for the Keys. “Being around the best in the game just really makes you want to work harder and try to be on top of those guys, instead of just being on top of the guys that you’re playing day in and day out.”
In his five outings since, Hall has a 2.67 ERA, striking out 36 across 27 innings while holding opponents to a .149 batting average. Overall in the second half, he has a 2.85 ERA after posting a 4.08 mark in the Carolina League’s first half.
“The past month is a product of just really grinding, and I’m not giving up,” Hall said. “The first half of this year was probably the worst half of baseball I’ve had in maybe my whole career, and it was tough to see that. But to come back in the second half and just keep grinding and pushing and helping my team as much as I could was my biggest goal, just not give up and just keep pushing forward.”
Hall’s start Thursday against the Potomac Nationals exemplified that. Coming off a 10-strikeout performance at Myrtle Beach, Hall said he struggled with his mechanics throughout the night. The control problems that have plagued him throughout the year did so again in the first, as a hit batter and a walk preceded a home run to put the Keys down 3-0. In all, five of Potomac’s first nine batters reached against Hall as he struggled to command any of his pitches while throwing 27 in the first inning.
At 20 years old, Hall is the youngest player on the Keys’ roster and among the youngest in the Carolina League. Previous lengthy innings have prompted Frederick manager Ryan Minor and pitching coach Justin Lord to end Hall’s outings early to protect the Orioles’ 2017 first-round pick.
But in the second and third time through the order, the Nationals went 0-for-14 with two walks. Their only other batter to reach first safely in that time did so on an error that ended Hall’s night after 99 pitches, the most he’s thrown in his professional career. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier’s misplay came with two outs in the sixth, keeping Hall from completing that frame for the third straight start. He finished six innings only twice in his prior 38 outings the past two seasons.
The first-inning home run might have caused Hall to back down earlier in the year and start dancing around the zone to avoid a similar result. Thursday, he remained on the attack.
“His stuff is too good to pitch around the zone,” Minor said. “Earlier in the year, he’d give up a loud out or a hard-hit base hit or something, and then all of a sudden, he’d be pitching away from contact, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to pitch in the zone and get outs in the zone, force swinging and force contact, if you, can early in counts. He’s done a lot better job of that.
“You can’t go out every night and give up a base hit or walk a couple guys and give up a home run, and then all of a sudden, you put your head between your legs and call it a night. No, you have to battle through it.”
Hall has done that in the second half, the same period last year when he fully took off for the Class-A Delmarva Shorebirds. He had a 0.84 second-half ERA and a 3.76 ERA in the first half.
Lord, who has served as Hall’s pitching coach at both levels, noted that this year’s post-break improvement comes while he’s being asked to pitch deeper into games. Hall has thrown at least 91 pitches in his past four starts; he never exceeded 90 with Delmarva.
“I think he’s a guy that’s learning what it takes day in and day out,” Lord said. “You look back in the Myrtle Beach game, and the game before that even, he’s struck out some right-handed hitters in 3-2 counts on changeups. He’s struck out some right-handed hitters on backdoor sliders. He’s not just throwing 95-97 [mph fastballs] past hitters. He’s pitching, and that’s what’s given him a lot of success. He struck out a hitter on a lefty-lefty changeup in Myrtle Beach. Just little things that you look for in his development that are important and encouraging to see.”
It’s unlikely the Keys push Hall further than they did Thursday, when he struck out four of six before the error to maintain his place atop the Carolina League’s strikeout leaderboard. On a night Hall wasn’t at his best, he impressed Lord by giving the Keys a chance to win.
Hall finished with three runs, three hits and three walks allowed in 5 2/3 innings, striking out five. The homer was only the third he’s surrendered in 80 2/3 innings.
He gave up no runs over his final 4 2/3 innings and no hits after the second frame.
“My fastball command was probably the worst it’s been since the first half of this year,” Hall said. “My mechanics were just all out of whack. Body wasn’t flowing together. But that’s something, you’re going to have those nights all the time. If you keep playing baseball, you’re gonna have nights like that where you just feels like nothing’s together, and that was what tonight was.
“If you want to pitch for a long time, you want to be able to pitch in the big leagues, you have to learn to continue to compete and compete and compete and compete, no matter how many runs. If they put up three in the first, five in the second, three in the third, you’ve got to go back out for the fourth and try to put up a zero.”
Around the horn
Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa will officially start the first game of Monday’s doubleheader against the New York Yankees. The latter contest’s starter is to be determined. ... A day after suffering a bruised left ankle on a foul ball, Renato Núñez was out of the Orioles’ lineup. Manager Brandon Hyde described him as “really sore.” ... Right-handed reliever Tayler Scott was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after Sunday’s game.