Johnny Hellweg's command issues pose problem

BY foxsports • September 26, 2013

If anything, Johnny Hellweg's outing Thursday night was another step in the long road he has ahead of him to become a consistent major-league starting pitcher. When the rookie throws strikes, he's hard to hit. But the problem lies in not throwing nearly enough strikes and the mental game that goes with it. 
Hellweg allowed just two hits and one run in four innings against the Mets, but he walked four and hit two batters, needing 80 pitches in a laborious effort. Just 37 of the 80 pitches were strikes, causing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to have to remove the right-hander one inning shy of qualifying for the win in Milwaukee's 4-2 victory. 
"We have a long ways to go," Roenicke said. "It's nice he's getting through innings now. The first couple of times he couldn't get through innings, and now he is. But he has to command the ball better. He does it at times but then he'll lose it. He's out battling, but it's just going to take some time."
After being named Milwaukee's minor league pitcher of the year and the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year, Hellweg has not adjusted to the next level. While more confident than his first stint in the big leagues, the 24-year-old just doesn't seem mentally ready. 
Hellweg walked a high number of guys in the minors, but his command problems have reached a whole new level with the Brewers. He'll finish his season with 26 walks, eight hit batters and just nine strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings in the major leagues. 
On Wednesday, Hellweg had two outs and nobody on in the third inning when he hit two batters in a row and walked the next hitter on four pitches to load the base. He eventually worked out of the jam with a strikeout, but that's usually a recipe for disaster. 
"He'll eventually get through it, but it is different," Roenicke said. "It is different pitching here. I think that's the time it's going to take, just for him to get used to being in this atmosphere and being able to pitch like he did in Triple-A. I don't want to say he was lights out in Triple-A. His pitch count was still getting up there and he walked some people, but he doesn't give up hits.
"I'm looking up at the board and he has two hits given up and one run and I'm taking him out after the fourth inning. That's weird. He had 80 pitches, 43 balls and 37 strikes, four walks and hit a couple of guys. It was a tough one because you want to leave him out there to give him a chance to win a ball game. Those are the hard things we have to decide on." 
Hellweg has walked nine and hit three batters over his last two starts but has allowed just three runs in nine innings because he has the stuff to work out of jams. The Brewers still feel they have a promising young pitcher when he figures out how to command the baseball. 
He's proven in his brief audition that more time is probably going to be needed. There's still a chance Hellweg comes in and blows everyone away in spring training and wins a rotation spot, but it is looking more and more likely he'll need more time in Triple-A. 
"It's going to be an interesting discussion on it," Roenicke said of Hellweg's rotation candidacy. "I think he comes into camp certainly with the idea he's going to be one of the guys looking to win a job. But we also know that there's some progress that needs to be made there. At times you see it. 
"We certainly like his stuff. We like that he doesn't give up hits, and when he's throwing it over the plate I don't think he's going to give up a lot of runs. He'll still be one of the guys we'll talk about."

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter


share story