When Alex Meyer attended the University of Kentucky, people often mistook him for a member of the basketball team. He stands 6 feet 9, after all.
“It’s funny,” Meyer said, “because in my mind I was like, ‘You guys are the craziest basketball fans and you know every player on our team, so how do you not know that? No, I do not play.’”
Meyer loves basketball, but his skill on the Wildcats’ mound made him a first-round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2011 and a highly regarded prospect for the Minnesota Twins after a trade the next year. Now, after a trade last summer to the Los Angeles Angels, Meyer, at 27, is making good on his promise.
Before his start at Fenway Park on Friday, in which he gave up five runs and was chased in the fourth inning, Meyer had a 3.52 earned run average with 55 strikeouts in 46 innings. His 96 mph fastball is one of the hardest among starters, and his reach allows him to release it closer to the plate than most pitchers can, making the pitch seem even livelier.
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“As he has harnessed his delivery, being able to repeat pitches a lot better, you see that his stuff plays,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Guys don’t get good looks at it. From where Alex was last year when we saw him to now, it’s light-years ahead.”
Meyer missed much of last season with shoulder inflammation, and when he joined the Angels in September, he was essentially still recovering. The Angels worked with him on his balance over the rubber, making sure he split his hands before driving to the plate. A simplified delivery — “an abbreviated stretch,” Meyer called it, similar in style to David Price’s and Noah Syndergaard’s — has given him better body control.
“For somebody with long limbs like him, it’s hard to repeat a lot of times,” said Angels’ pitching coach Charles Nagy. “But he’s been doing a great job.”
Meyer is taller than every other pitcher in the majors except Kansas City’s Chris Young, who is 6-10 (and who was designated for assignment Friday). When Meyer grew 6 inches from eighth grade to his freshman year of high school, Meyer said, he looked like a baby giraffe on the mound, gangly and uncoordinated. Yet for years, he resisted the notion that his height should make pitching more challenging.
“Then you look at my track record, and it’s been a bit of inconsistency, so it kind of plays into that,” Meyer said. “But I try not to use that as a crutch for anything. Shoot, you’d think being tall would be some sort of advantage. I’ve definitely struggled at times being in the strike zone consistently, repeating mechanics. But if done right, it should be an advantage for me.”
Now that it is, Meyer expects to pitch for a while. In time, though, he will apply his height the way most people expect.
“When my baseball career is over — and hopefully, that’s a long time from now — that'll be the first thing I do,” he said. “Sign up for a Y league and go play some basketball.”