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Blair looks to rebound from inconsistent 2011 season

Blair looks to rebound from inconsistent 2011 season
March 15, 2012
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There is a lot more to spring training than just the warm sun, the sound of balls popping into gloves, and the crack of the ball off of a bat. It also means that the slate has been wiped clean as players all start with the same numbers, and they have a new opportunity to add onto their accomplishments from last season or make amends for any struggles they had.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Blair is one of those players looking to put 2011 in the very distant past and to use this coming season to re-establish his prospect standing and show he can be healthy, productive and develop into the starting pitching prospect the Indians’ envisioned when they took him in the 4th round of the 2010 Draft.

Blair, 23, struggled in his pro debut last season going 3-5 with a 5.16 ERA in 24 games (14 starts) for Low-A Lake County. In 82.0 innings he allowed 81 hits, 7 home runs, 40 walks, and had 72 strikeouts.

Blair actually got off to a strong start in April last season where in five starts he went 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA and had just 6 walks in 18.0 innings, but he sustained a knee injury at the end of that month and his performance went downhill from there.  In five May starts he went 1-3 with a 9.00 ERA and he had 16 walks in 22.0 innings, and in four June starts he went 0-2 with a 6.89 ERA and had 13 walks in 15.2 innings.

The Indians shut him down at the end of last June, and an MRI showed he had a grade two MCL strain and a slight tear of the MCL in his knee and had been pitching on it for over a month. After five weeks of rehab in Arizona he came back in August and pitched out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season and was back to his early season form where in nine appearances he went 0-0 with a 1.89 ERA and had 5 walks in 19 innings.

“Obviously you want to look forward and not look back, but there was a lot to learn from last year with how to deal with certain things and when to say when,” Blair said Wednesday afternoon.  “It was not a good year performance-wise, but I feel that it was good for me mentally and getting to learn the game. I just need to take away from the bad, learn from it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

After last season wrapped up Blair went on a vacation to a popular beach destination in Mexico to recharge the batteries.  Once he returned home he immediately got to work on getting in better shape and rehabbing his knee.

“The knee feels great as I have been rehabbing it for about six months now,” Blair said.  “I spent a lot of the offseason rehabbing the knee and I am also in better shape than I was in last year. I am just ready to come out and do what I know how to do. It is kind of a big year to show I can bounce back from the year I had.”

With his knee issue hopefully behind him Blair is hoping he can really begin to hone in on the fastball command issues that have plagued him since college. Since the day he stepped foot on his college campus at San Diego, to the day he was drafted by the Indians, and to where he stands today, his biggest area of opportunity has been to improve his fastball command.

“I’m working on just throwing strikes as that has been my Achilles Heel since college,” Blair said.  “I am really focusing on my bullpens and making them competitive so that when I get to the games I can throw strikes. I have already been throwing a lot of strikes so far this spring, so I am really happy with it and excited with where things are going.”

The fastball command woes for Blair are more mental than physical at this point, so he is working on figuring things out from the mental side of things. But he has also made some tweaks to his delivery in order to help simplify things.

“It is really more mental preparation than anything,” Blair said.  “Last year it was all upstairs, so if you can eliminate the factors that contributed to that you are good to go. I was watching film from last year and I was all over the place, so I went back to what I did in high school and that is where I am comfortable. I was trying to do too much. Once you realize not to do too much and be so fine, the game is a lot easier.”

Barring injury Blair could be slated for a trip to High-A Carolina to start the season, especially with so many young starting pitchers that need innings at Low-A Lake County. No matter where he ends up when camp breaks at the end of this month, like all players, he just wants to have a healthy and productive year.

“Staying healthy is a goal for everyone as you never know when it is going to get you, so that is first and foremost,” Blair said.  “I am throwing well and throwing a lot of strikes, which is the key.  I just want to stay within myself. If I just do what I do best then I don’t see where I will have any issues.”

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

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