Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Former Red Sox No. 7 overall draft pick Trey Ball discusses adjustment of moving to bullpen

Vincent Gallo
July 11, 2018 - 8:27 am

HARTFORD -- Trey Ball sat in the dugout and stared out at Dunkin Donuts Park through the shades of his sunglasses, the sound of a siren’s wail through Hartford slightly drowning out the confines pregame Christmas-in-July tunes.

He lightly scratched his goatee as he searched for the precise quote that has stuck with him throughout his career. Ball doesn’t recall where exactly he got it from. But the words of wisdom still resonate within him alongside his determination.

“Talent only gets you so far, but the work you put in is what advances that,” Ball said. “That’s something that’s really come into focus as of late, and in the last couple of years. [I] have the talent to get here but now [I] have to put the work in and continue to work hard. I’ve always felt that I’ve worked really hard at what I do, it’s just that sometimes you need to make changes. The number one thought has to be ‘I have to do this for this, for this reason.’ That’s been a big thing throughout my professional career.”

As fans enjoy Christmas songs during the summer months and other light-hearted gimmicks, the bullpens of minor league parks throughout the East Coast have been Ball’s testing grounds for his pitch delivery.

It’s been five years since the Red Sox picked Ball with the No. 7 pick of the 2013 draft. He has yet to have made it to the big league diamond, but the 24-year-old hasn’t lost hope. After posting a 5.27 ERA in 24 starts last season, the decision was made for him to move to the bullpen.

Ball started the year off strong by pitching 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball over three appearances while averaging a strikeout per inning. Following those three games, the lefty surrendered 19 runs in his next 10 games, spiking his ERA to 6.66. It’s been within the most recent 10-game stretch where Ball is tapping into the consistency he enjoyed early in the season.

Aside from a rough five run outing (3 1/3 innings) against Reading, Ball has only given up six runs through the nine other appearances (17 2/3 innings).

“He really struggled early on. He wasn’t having a very good year. He’s turned it around nicely in a pretty impressive manner,” said Paul Abbott, Sea Dogs pitching coach. “He just needs to be able to control himself out there and when he gets going on a good roll he tries to get more and he’s doing a really good job with staying within himself. The goal is to sustain this [relief] role.”

Abbott noted that Ball has never backed down from going at batters with his mechanics. The key to his recent success however, has been picking his spots in being assertive.

“He’s always been aggressive, the issue was he’d get overaggressive and his head would get in the way, and take away from the quality of his pitches,” Abbott explained. “So we’ve been working on controlling that effort to where he’s aggressive in different timing where he can sync his lower half up with his upper half and that’s why we’re seeing a big difference right now. You want guys to be max effort looking throwers … some just have bad mechanics [but with Ball] you’re seeing a guy who’s got really smooth mechanics, and he’s [recently] been able to repeat [the success].”

Ball is happy about the recent steps he’s taken.

“It’s been a good adjustment,” he said. “I’ve obviously had my bumps in the road this season so far but I feel like the work I’ve been putting in and the work I’ve been doing with my sides, building off good outings, learning from the mistakes I make in bad outings, I feel like that’s been a good thing as of late.”

When Ball was drafted, scouts cited his slider/cutter as his strongest and most consistent pitch that he’d need to build his arsenal around at the professional level. Abbott believes Ball’s slider is what has helped him pitch more effectively, and correlates its emergence with the lefty’s move to the bullpen.

“It comes into play more as a reliever because he’s not going to have to go through the lineup more than once at the most so it actually has stepped up to probably be his primary secondary pitch,” said Abbott. “It’s gotten up to where it’s 87-90 mph … he’s commanded it very well. [It’s been] a swing and miss pitch he’s had in his back pocket.”

Ball has relished being able to reset quickly and between less games while working in relief. Along with the strength of his pitches, he believes the move from the starting role helped his mentality, and will go a long way in fully establishing his confidence.

“That’s the difference in being on the reliever side,” Ball said. “When I have a rough outing, if it’s a couple of innings [where I give] up a couple of runs, I tell myself ‘hey, you’re gonna be out there in two or three days’ you don’t have to wait on that whole five days and mull over it, you get back out there and compete and work hard. That’s a different mindset from coming in as a starter, being able to say that I’ll be getting out there sooner, I have to put my work in and recover those numbers."

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