It took one pitch for Nick Lodolo to get his first out in Low-A baseball on Thursday night. Five pitches later, he was through his first inning. It wasn’t all that smooth for the left-hander, but he had the look of a first-round pick during his Dayton Dragons debut.
On a pitch count in the low 50s, Lodolo tossed three innings of one-run, three-hit baseball and struck out five. Four of his five punchouts were looking, which was something he noticed as a difference between Pioneer League and Low-A hitters.
“The guys in Billings, I think, swung the bat more,” Lodolo said. “The guys here didn’t chase as much.”
As advertised, the TCU product commanded the strike zone and did not issue a walk. He’s now thrown 14.1 innings without issuing a free pass in his brief professional career. Thirty of his 43 pitches were thrown for strikes, with the only lapse in command coming when he hit the second batter of the second inning on the hand.
The lanky 6-foot-6 southpaw showed off a smooth, repeatable delivery, especially for his size. He regularly pumped fastballs at 95 mph and primarily mixed it with a sweeping slider that came in between 81 and 83 mph. Great Lakes Loons hitters had a tough time squaring up the breaking pitch, and Lodolo threw a heavy dose of it.
“I try to tunnel it off my fastball so that when it gets close to the plate and breaks off, it might catch some guys by surprise,” Lodolo said, also referring to the slider as his “go-to” pitch.
Pitch tunneling isn’t a new concept, but the term is relatively new in baseball. The idea is to make pitches look the same out of the hand by using similar release points and arm action. A hitter may see fastball out of the pitcher’s hand only for the ball to suddenly break at the 50-foot mark, well after they’ve already committed to swing. Couple that with the velocity difference between a fastball and slider — in Lodolo’s case, it was about 10 to 14 mph — and you can see why it’s hard to hit.
The lefty didn’t appear afraid to throw the slider in any count and used it against hitters on both sides of the plate. He mixed in plenty of front-door and backdoor sliders for called strikes to go with the ones hitters whiffed at in the dirt.
Kyle Farmer, on a rehab stint as he works back from a concussion, told reporters Lodolo’s stuff reminded him of Alex Wood. Farmer even went so far as to say Lodolo’s slider is better than Wood’s. (Farmer and Wood were college teammates at Georgia.)
"He reminds me of Alex Wood."
— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) July 26, 2019
He only mixed in the changeup a few times. But he did get a swing and miss from a right-handed batter on a changeup that fell off the table to Lodolo’s arm side.
Lodolo’s only issues came in the second inning with two outs. He hit a batter in between two strikeouts looking and gave up back-to-back two-out singles that scored a run, prompting a mound visit from Farmer. Lodolo bounced back by inducing a weak grounder to first base. In the third, he worked around a leadoff single to retire the next three hitters, two via strikeouts (both looking).
Through seven professional appearances, Lodolo now has a 44.1% strikeout rate.