NEW BRITAIN â€“ The first week of the 2019 season hasnâ€™t been the friendliest of welcomes for New Britain Bees starting pitcher Christian Friedrich.
Taking the mound for the Beesâ€™ home opener on Friday night against the Somerset Patriots, Friedrich was tagged for five runs on 11 hits over four innings, a painfully familiar showing to his first start of the year, when he was knocked around for five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against those same Patriots.
â€śTheyâ€™re a really good hitting team,â€ť Friedrich said. â€śThey take what you give them.â€ť
While Friedrich credits a talented Somerset squad to his rough Friday night, he realizes much of his early struggles to start the year are self-inflicted, as heâ€™s found himself being a more predictable pitcher on the mound.
â€śI think I need to start mixing and matching a little better and throwing my breaking ball earlier in counts to keep hitters guessing,â€ť Friedrich said.
Of course, early problems shouldnâ€™t come as a shock for a pitcher who didnâ€™t throw an inning of professional baseball since 2017 before signing with the Bees this offseason. Friedrich, who battled elbow issues that limited his workload to less than 20 innings over the last two seasons, including zero last year, has found himself readjusting to life on the mound on the fly, which hasnâ€™t brought upon immediate results on the scoreboard.
â€śItâ€™s the first time Iâ€™ve pitched in 19 months,â€ť Friedrich said. â€śSo Iâ€™m still working out some things.â€ť
Manager Mauro Gozzo has been watching Friedrich from the dugout, and sees a pitcher shrugging off a layer of rust, while still showing off the skills that helped him reach the major leagues with the Padres in 2016.
â€śHeâ€™s just missing location,â€ť Gozzo said. â€śThere might be some pitch selection stuff early on, but I think heâ€™s just missing location. His stuff looks good. If we look at the velocity readings, and watching his sink from the side, his stuff is there.â€ť
The location struggles for Friedrich have come late in counts during his first two starts, as the righty has found himself battling to put hitters away, which has resulted in late rallies like on Friday night when he gave up three of his five earned runs with two outs, when he was a strike away from escaping further trouble.
â€śIâ€™d say mixing and matching my breaking ball and putting guys away,â€ť Friedrich said when asked what his most glaring issue has been early on in the season. â€śIâ€™ve had a handful of guys in 0-2 or 1-2 counts and just havenâ€™t been able to get it done.â€ť
Friedrich has a plan of attack moving forward, in addition to simply logging more innings to settle back into a season on the rubber. To improve his performance late in counts, Friedrich will turn his attention to getting ahead earlier in the count, hoping the rest of the at-bat will take care of itself.
â€śThe more I can get my slider and curveball in the zone early and often, the more I can keep hitters off-balanced a little more,â€ť Friedrich said.
The sample size is small, but through two starts, Friedrich has been shaky for Gozzo and the Bees. Fortunately, Friedrich has a plan of attack to change his fortunes, and a track record that suggests he has the talent to pull it off.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org