Photo courtesy of Minda Haas

John Lamb Struggles, Still Shows Signs of Progress

In his first start of the season for the Omaha Storm Chasers, John Lamb was quite impressive, allowing just 2 runs on 3 hits in 5 innings of work. He also struck out 7 and walked just 1. However, his velocity in that game mostly hovered around 87 or 88 MPH, touching 90 once, which is obviously less than you’d like to see from him. I had not gotten a chance to watch Lamb pitch before, so I decided to head to Werner Park last night and get a glimpse of the once-top prospect and see if he could have another solid outing.

Unfortunately, that solid outing did not happen.

Lamb pitched 5 innings, allowed 11 hits (including 2 home runs), and 5 runs (4 earned), all while walking 1 and striking out 4. Obviously those numbers aren’t great, but there were a few positives I took away from his start.

First of all, his velocity was a bit higher. Instead of seeing 87s and 88s, he was sitting around 88 or 89 MPH. He also had a handful of pitches at 90, and even a couple at 91 MPH. One of those came in the 5th inning, which could indicate he isn’t wearing out physically. Then again, he had just given up 3 straight hits and hit a batter, so there could have been some frustration that helped him reach back for a little bit more. I talked to Lamb after the game, and he said his arm felt great, and that the increased velocity has a lot to do with his arm just continuing to get warm.

As for his secondary pitches, I liked what I saw from his changeup on quite a few occasions. He was throwing it to both righties and lefties, and it sat between 73 and 77 MPH, although it was closer to 73 in his last couple of innings. The pitch had some nice arm-side fade to it, and it seemed to get better sinking action as the game wore on. In that 5th inning, he rung up a pair of hitters with two terrific changeups, which was nice to see from him after allowing so many batters to reach base. Lamb’s third pitch was a curveball he threw 70-72 MPH, and it didn’t have much of a sharp break, but it did have enough movement to be effective. He racked up a couple strikeouts with the curve in the 3rd inning.

Mechanically, Lamb appeared to repeat his delivery well, for the most part. He started to open up a bit early a few times, but generally, he looked consistent. He works quickly from the windup, and when runners were on, he mixed his timing to keep the runners guessing. That, plus a few different moves to first, allowed him to pick-off a runner to end the 4th inning.

Lamb said he was encouraged by a few of the things he did tonight, even though the results weren’t what he was looking for. He said that he’s glad this is something he can take accountability with and learn from, and he does feel like he’s “getting better and better” each time out.

All that being said, however, there were some parts of Lamb’s start that worried me.

His fastball seemed to come in pretty straight, and he wasn’t fine enough with his command to paint any corners. He had good control, but too many of his pitches caught too much of the strike zone. It’s great to see a pitcher throw strikes, but the Redbirds’ hitters were taking advantage of Lamb’s aggressiveness by being even more aggressive. In the 2nd inning, Lamb threw a first-pitch changeup to Joey Butler, but he left it up and in the middle of the plate, and Butler hit it over the center field wall. The other home run came on a curveball that hung up for a little too long, and Xavier Scruggs crushed it to left-center. The home runs weren’t the only hard-hit balls, either. While a few of his fastballs had some late running action, for the most part, Lamb wasn’t fooling anyone. A fastball that lacks movement is going to result in a lot of line drives, and typically, line drives fall for hits. Oscar Taveras had a pair of hits against Lamb, the first of which was a fastball that Taveras completely punished on a double to center field. There may have been a few balls that got through due to BABIP luck, but mostly, they were hit very hard.

Lamb told me he wanted to establish his fastball on the inner half of the plate, but he didn’t come in with enough authority to open up the outer edge. Since his fastball lacks elite speed and movement, he couldn’t challenge hitters as much without them making him pay.

As I mentioned above, Lamb’s changeup was excellent at times. But at other times, it came in far too flat. He was still getting some fade, but instead of sinking, the pitch would just kind of hang up in the air as it shifted back toward his arm-side. There wasn’t enough lateral movement to make up for the lack of vertical movement.

I’m not going to try and say that Lamb had a good start last night, because he didn’t. His stuff didn’t look consistently great, and he allowed far too much solid contact.

But again, the start wasn’t a total disaster. His velocity was higher, and that will be something to continue to monitor as the season rolls on. I see quite a bit of potential in his changeup, and if he can continue to work on it, perhaps it can become something more than just a flash. I also came away encouraged by how Lamb reacted to his start. He knows he didn’t pitch all that well, but he also realizes that he can still adjust and keep learning about what he needs to do. The guy has 11 strikeouts and just 2 walks in his first 10 innings, so it isn’t like he’s completely lost. He feels good, and he thinks he has a solid idea of what he did wrong last night, so it’s just a matter of correcting those errors and making better pitches. I’m certainly not ready to launch Lamb back into any prospect rankings right now, but I do still think he’ll be worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

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