CLEVELAND — Anthony Kay, having pitched well enough to reach the Futures Game at Progressive Field and sharp enough to understand the bad optics of excuse-making, worked hard Sunday afternoon to take ownership of his recent struggles.
Yet the Stony Brook native Kay, arguably the Mets’ top pitching prospect, has experienced the same phenomenon witnessed and voiced by plenty of others: Triple-A baseball has changed because the Triple-A baseballs have changed.
The Triple-A level now uses the same balls as the major leagues, an initiative implemented this season, and the change in power numbers makes the big-league explosion seem like a minor tremor in comparison. Kay, who has made only four starts since getting promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, feels that pain.
“The hitters are a little bit better. They’re a little more disciplined. They’re going to not swing at as much junk,” said Kay, who sports a 9.64 ERA with Syracuse after tallying a 1.49 ERA in 12 starts at Double-A Binghamton. “The balls are a little bit different also. You’ve kind of got to learn how to throw new pitches, honestly. The balls are pretty different. I wouldn’t say learn new pitches, but get used to it.”
The 24-year-old’s success at the Double-A level caused some Mets fans to champion a promotion all the way to the majors. Given his growing pains at the highest minor league level, it’s probably for the best that didn’t happen.
Consider that last year, International League hitters went deep 1,540 times the entire season. With the new balls, that total already has been surpassed, with 1,555 homers through Saturday’s action.
“The seams are definitely a little bit lower, and they obviously go a little bit farther,” Kay said of the different balls. “You kind of don’t really want to worry about it. At the end of the day, you’ve still got to make pitches, regardless of what balls you’re throwing.”
He has actually improved in his most recent two starts, giving up six earned runs over nine innings after permitting nine earned runs over five innings in his first two outings for Syracuse. “I’m definitely starting to get used to it a little bit,” he said.
A graduate of Ward Melville High School like current Met Steven Matz, Kay communicates sporadically with the left-hander, who offered his counsel as Kay rehabilitated from Tommy John surgery — Matz rode that ride while in the minors — and very much would like to succeed for his hometown team.
“Yeah, it’s really cool,” he said. “I’ve gone to a bunch of Mets games at Shea Stadium and Citi Field. It’ll definitely be really cool when the time comes.”
First, though, a little more work will be needed with those baseballs.
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