McKinney trying to drive hitters batty

Douglas Fritz • Jul 9, 2014 at 10:01 PM

“Pitchability” may not sound as impressive as a 98-mph fastball, but hitters struggle more often with being deceived than they do with getting overpowered.

And it’s not like Ian McKinney can’t dial up a professional fastball. It’s just the 5-11, 185-pound left-hander will throw a fastball when he wants and where he wants.

“He has pitchability,” said Johnson City Cardinals’ manager Johnny Rodriguez, whose Appalachian League team played Greeneville on Wednesday night. “He knows how to mix speeds, and how to set up hitters. He knows what to do with each hitter. He wills himself on the hitters.”

McKinney, who is scheduled to throw tonight at Greeneville, has been a picture of pitching success so far in his two-year pro career. He currently carries a career ERA of 1.01, and has been lights out for Johnson City this season. In 18 innings, McKinney has allowed just six hits and one run with two walks and 18 strikeouts. His record is 2-0, and his ERA is a nearly invisible 0.50.

It hasn’t been a walk in the park, but the 19-year-old McKinney has already drawn comparisons to Toronto Blue Jays’ All-Star Mark Buehrle — the classic crafty left-hander, who spots his fastball and generally drives hitters batty with an array of offspeed offerings.

“We have the same mechanics,” said McKinney. “I consider myself a pitcher. I like to set up hitters, and I know how to control the game so I can pitch eight innings instead of five with 100 pitches.”

Before it sounds like McKinney is being painted as a guy heaving a stream of eephus pitches to the plate, it should be noted he’s considered a serious major-league prospect. He was picked in the fifth round of the 2013 MLB first-year player draft, which doesn’t happen without some special talent.

His fastball ranges between 88-91 mph with a lot of run. And that movement is one of the things that drew the interest of pro scouts to Orlando (Fla.) Boone High School. One game brought almost three dozen scouts to watch him pitch.

“There were 35 scouts,” said McKinney. “That was definitely cool.”

These days McKinney is still ahead of the hitters in a lot of ways. His real-estate fastball thrives on location, which is usually low in the strike zone. But to keep hitters honest, McKinney will buzz them upstairs.

“They usually chase it,” he said.

And at this level of ball, hitters are a sometimes like dogs who see a rabbit. It’s hard to build a big-league ladder with a resume of walks, so it’s chase now and ask questions later.

“They are very aggressive,” said McKinney. “Pretty much if you throw a decent breaking pitch, they will swing.”

Keyword: decent.

Of course, McKinney isn’t a finished product. And that’s why minor-league baseball is still his home.

“He has cleaning to do with his delivery,” said Rodriguez. “It’s not perfect.”

But there is reason to believe McKinney could be in St. Louis one day. The main reason, said Rodriguez, is the effort McKinney shows.

“Because of his work ethic — he’s a pro about everything — he has a chance to pitch at a higher level,” said Rodriguez. “He has a chance to pitch in the big leagues.”

For now, McKinney is just enjoying the ride.

“I come out and get paid to play baseball,” said McKinney. “I’ve played baseball since I was four years old, and now I get paid to do what I’ve always loved to do.

“And I’m glad I got picked by the Cardinals. This is a good organization.”

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