It was hard to watch Kasey Kiker's 3.2-inning outing against Corpus Christi on Thursday. As bad as the line looks (4 R, 4 H, 5 BB, 2 WP, 1 HBP), the view from behind the plate was even more horrifying.
Kiker appeared to be at max effort to pump his fastball up to the 86-88 mph range. I didn't chart his pitches, so I can't say for sure that he didn't ever sniff 90 mph, but I can say that I saw a lot at 86 mph and a couple tick up to 87-88 mph.
In other words, this was not like last year where he seemed to be subtracting velocity with purpose. Yes, he'd sit 88-89 mph most of the time, but he was still firing off enough in the 92-94 mph range -- and the occasional 96-97 mph heater -- that you felt the velocity was there when he thought he needed it. Not anymore. Eighty-eight seems to be all he's got in his pistol these days, and only then with maximum effort and stress.
But here's the bad news (correct, the low velocity is not the bad news -- it gets worse): Kiker has literally no ability to repeat his delivery anymore and he's almost as likely to fly open as he is to throw across his body. His front foot might land anywhere. He'll plant straight at the plate three times, and then a foot towards the third base side for four pitches and then fly open and plant a foot towards the first base side. It's as if he has never been coached and doesn't understand the concept of a repeatable delivery. That's obviously not the case, but that's what it looks like.
Kiker's fastball is not only slow, but he leaves it up most of the time. It still has solid late life with remarkable armside run most of the time, but when he tries to keep it low in the zone, it's in the dirt more often than not. One of his two wild pitches was a 58-footer that was eighteen inches inside (the other probably should have gone down as a passed ball on Taylor Teagarden -- more on his lackluster effort in a moment).
As for Kiker's curveball, which was inconsistent last year but flashed as solid-average more than half the time, that's gone. The pitch does nothing now. Nothing. It's useless. It's difficult to come away from something like this effort and not have a very strong suspicion that Kiker is injured. And if he's not injured now, he probably will be soon given his absolutely horrendous mechanics.
Speaking of Kiker's horrendous mechanics, I found myself a bit disappointed that Taylor Teagarden didn't ever seem to intervene to point this problem out to Kiker. But Teagarden's failure to haul his butt out to the mound to communicate with Kiker was just one piece of evidence suggesting that the Texas alum had very little interest in being back in Frisco.
On two of the three occasions a runner at first base broke, Teagarden bobbled the pitch and then made a horrible throw (on the other occasion, Kiker got the out in a pickoff-rundown). Teagarden's first throw to second tailed off so sharply towards right field that Matt Lawson nearly pulled a groin muscle rescuing Teagarden from an error.
You can take one of the four hits on Kiker's ledger and smack Joey Butler over the head with it. On a weak pop to right, Butler immediately broke back and it took him about six steps before he realized he had misplayed the ball by about 40 yards.
Butler has wielded one of the hottest bats in the Texas League lately (.304/.380 /.448), and he racked up two more doubles on Thursday, but that play in the second inning was one of the worst defensive plays I've ever seen a Texas League outfielder make in my seventeen years as an observer of that circuit. Just file that away when people start building a Joey Butler bandwagon if he remains hot at the plate.