With Flat Fastball and No Command, Mark Appel Struggles Again

Mark Appel's command was nonexistent Wednesday night in his sixth start of the season and he was hit around for the second time in a row. Appel allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits over five innings in a 10-2 Lehigh Valley loss to Columbus.

Appel just didn't have much from the outset. His four-seam fastball was remarkably straight and the Clippers, the Indians' Triple A affiliate, didn't miss it. Appel got through the first inning unscathed but even the outs were loud.

In the first, Appel got two quick outs on a Tyler Naquin flyout and a Michael Martinez - yep, that Michael Martinez - hard-hit lineout to second base. Jesus Aguilar followed with a single and then Giovanny Urshela crushed a belt-high fastball off the left-center field wall, missing a home run by just a few inches. After a long delay caused by a leg injury Urshela suffered sliding into second, Appel got out of the inning in lucky fashion on a sharply hit line drive by Robbie Grossman right at IronPigs first baseman Brock Stassi.

In the second, the Clippers scored six runs.

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Typically, we wouldn't offer a play-by-play, but we're figuring a lot of people didn't see Appel's outing, and to fully understand the struggles you need to see how he labored with practically every hitter over the first two innings:

First inning
Tyler Naquin - Flyout

Michael Martinez - Well-struck lineout

Jesus Aguilar - Single

Giovanny Urshela - Double driven deep to left-center; missed a HR by a few inches

Robbie Grossman - Crushed lineout right at first baseman

Second inning
Erik Gonzalez - Hit by pitch

Collin Cowgill - Reached on error by 3B Taylor Featherston (Appel threw a wild pitch during this AB and barely avoided a double when Cowgill's shot down the 3B line was ruled just foul)

Adam Moore - First-pitch, opposite-field three-run HR on fastball right down the middle

Ronny Rodriguez - Routine groundball to SS booted by Ryan Jackson (second error of inning)

Tyler Naquin - Line shot to right of 1B, single puts runners on the corners

Michael Martinez - Hanging 0-1 breaking ball with little movement, Martinez just pokes his bat out and doubles to the gap in right-center to drive in two more runs

Jesus Aguilar - Groundout

Yhoxian Medina - Groundout

Robbie Grossman - Flyout, but not before Appel's wild pitch allows Martinez to score to make it 6-0 Clippers

From there, Appel did settle in, striking out five and inducing two double play groundouts over the next three innings. But the damage was done. Appel's fastball was repeatedly in the middle of the plate, and he couldn't consistently throw his mostly flat breaking ball for strikes. His three wild pitches and the two errors behind him certainly didn't help. Columbus, which has the best record in the International League at 21-11, seemed to have a plan to attack Appel early in counts and didn't miss many fastballs.

Now it's time for Appel to make some adjustments. He's allowed 13 hits and 11 runs (eight earned) over 10 innings in his last two starts, both losses. Truth be told, the issues started the outing before that, when he walked four batters but was able to limit the Buffalo Bisons to one run over 5⅓ innings. In his last three starts, Appel has put 27 men on base in 15⅓ innings. His ERA has risen to 3.38 and could be a lot higher given the fact that he's putting nearly 1½ men on base per inning (1.47 WHIP).

There isn't a whole lot of deception with Appel. His delivery is simple and he throws an overhand fastball, which tends to be the easiest motion for a hitter to pick up. Not every outing is going to go as poorly for Appel as Wednesday night's did, but when you combine that comfortable delivery with a lack of late life or movement, you begin to understand why Appel's years in the Astros' farm system didn't go well.

Appel's next start will likely be Monday at Lehigh Valley against the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. 

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