Padres' wish has been Italiano's command

Padres' wish has been Italiano's command

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres are preaching fastball command in camp, and Craig Italiano is doing more than just buying into it.

The practical application has been pretty good.

Italiano, a promising right-handed reliever who was obtained last July in a deal with the A's, has embraced this organizational philosophy of fastball command, and has already made great strides toward accomplishing as much.

"I think every pitcher works on fastball command, because you work off your fastball," Italiano said. "What they're teaching us here is really what we have worked on our whole lives.

"Having command of that fastball is huge. It's gone well so far but it's something you need to work on every day."

Italiano, 23, allowed one walk in one inning of work on Friday against the Mariners and induced a ground ball that third baseman and fellow prospect James Darnell turned into a game-ending double play.

"I like a lot of things about his stuff. His fastball has life and velocity, the ball has a nice rotation to it. He's doing fine," manager Bud Black said.

Actually, he's doing a lot better since being sent to San Diego when the Padres shipped outfielder Scott Hairston to Oakland for three pitchers. Hairston has, of course, rejoined the Padres, acquired in a deal in January.

Italiano flourished after the trade, posting a 1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings for Class A Lake Elsinore, with 44 strikeouts. Opponents hit .209 against him. The Padres, seeing his power arm, made him a reliever. He was a starter with the A's.

In fact, in that same California League, Italiano was 5-6 with a 5.63 ERA in 16 starts with Stockton.

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Three weeks before the trade, the A's had asked him to change his arm slot and incorporate a two-seam fastball.

"The lower arm slot helped, and the two-seam fastballs, that wasn't something that I was used to throwing when I was throwing straight over the top," Italiano said. "I'm getting used to holding the ball that way and throwing it that way. It's been beneficial to have that.

"I think it helped me get more consistent with command."

Italiano also believes that switching to relief was helpful because he didn't have to worry about working his way through a lineup several times, and because he could drop his changeup and focus on his fastball and breaking ball.

Italiano is one of several young hurlers in camp who have impressed pitching coach Darren Balsley in regard to fastball command -- which, Balsley says, is easier said than done.

Balsley cited Mat Latos, Sean Gallagher and Aaron Poreda as three other pitchers who have made big strides in that area.

"We're not looking to reduce the strike zone but hone in on a certain spot instead of a vast area," Balsley said. "That's why you've seen a lot of fastballs in these first few games. [It's] not so much not walking guys or throwing strikes down the middle but making quality pitches.

"For the most part, they're starting to get it."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.