Lara Thriving Early In Savannah

Lara has allowed just five hits so far

SAVANNAH, GA - Sand Gnats starting pitcher Rainy Lara is already turning heads in the Mets' organization this season. The 22-year-old right-hander got straight down to business in his first start where he threw six innings while striking out six, walking one, and only giving up two hits, and then followed it up with another gem in his second start on Sunday.

Lara brings experience and a strong arm to an already stacked rotation in Savannah, and he expects to continue to succeed at the low-A level.

"I felt really good in my first outing," Lara said through a translator. "My fastball was working well and I had good command of the strike zone. My offspeed stuff felt pretty good too. I'm just trying to keep everything consistent moving forward."

Sand Gnats manager Luis Rojas is no stranger to working with Lara and he said that he is happy and excited to see him thriving at the low-A level.

"I'm impressed just to see him start again," Rojas said. "I know he started last year, but a few years ago I had him in the Gulf Coast [League], and he was relieving and closing for us. Now he's got the starting job again and it's like he's been doing it for ten years. I'm glad to see him succeed in the starting role."

Sand Gnats pitching Coach Frank Viola is also thrilled to have Lara as part of his rotation this season, and said that he looks forward to watching him excel in Savannah this year.

"The kid takes care of himself," Viola added. "He's done everything I've asked of him. He works hard, he's excellent in the weight room, his conditioning is fantastic, and he listens very well when we're working on the side, so he's a kid that I don't think you have to worry about very much. He's just going to continue to go out and get better and it's going to be fun to watch."

Viola said that he was happy with Lara's first outing this season, and said that the command of his fastball was allowing him to work quickly and effectively.

"His first performance was outstanding for a first performance. He got six innings in [and threw] 80 pitches. He was doing everything we asked of him.

"He was attacking the strike zone and he commanded it. He was able to spot his fastball inside and outside. He used a nice breaking ball and the changeup off of that, so from that standpoint it was everything we expected of him."

Lara's fastball certainly seems to be his bread and butter, and he said that keeping it consistent will be a key part to honing some of the other pitches in his repertoire.

"I feel comfortable with where my fastball is right now," Lara said. "I've been able to locate it well and use it effectively, so now I can focus more on some of my breaking pitches."

Viola agreed that Lara's fastball is right where it needs to be at this stage in his career, and that his pitch command will allow him to use it even more effectively in his future outings.

"Moving forward, the only thing I saw in his first start was that he needs to come in off the plate a little more and make these guys a little more susceptible to feeling a little bit uncomfortable at the plate," Viola said. "He was way far away the first time, so when a team comes and plays him a second or third time they're going to be really comfortable.

"He can establish the outside really well, but he's got to come in off the plate to make [hitters] weary of that inside pitch. That's the only negative I saw in his first outing."

Rojas agreed that Lara needs to mix his pitches up a little more to continue to have success against batters in the South Atlantic League.

"I want his changeup to keep developing," Rojas added. "He's got a good feel for his slider. His fastball is his number one, of course, and he's got that movement.

"One of the things we want him to do with his fastball is throw it inside more so his slider can come in to play. His changeup can develop to get guys to swing on it and miss, and also make it a contact pitch. So we're just working with him on his changeup and also getting his fastball in on batters."

Viola also said that he would like to see Lara develop his changeup this season, saying that it will help him become an even bigger threat on the mound.

"I agree with Luis (Rojas) 100 percent," Viola said. "The changeup is the pitch he does need to work on a little bit more. He's gotta sneak it into ball games a little more and if he gets hit he gets hit. I just want to see him unafraid to throw it in certain counts."

Aside from adding a little more movement to his fastball and developing his changeup a little more, Viola said that he is pleased with where Lara's pitches are at this stage in his game.

"His fastball is 90-93 and it's going to get a little better," Viola continued. "I think there's a little something else in there. He's got a very slow delivery, and the ball sneaks up on you, and he's got good late motion with his two-seamer, so from that standpoint he's real good.

"His slider is his second best pitch right now. It's a nice, late break with some depth. He just needs to get a little more consistent with it."

The general consensus in the clubhouse in Savannah is that Lara's experience, consistency and control will allow him to thrive and dominate at the low-A level. If Lara can handle the wear-and-tear of making anywhere between 20 to 25 starts in his first full season, Rojas believes he has the capability of moving up very quickly in the Mets' organization.

"He's got really good composure, and he's cold," Rojas said. "You talk to him and he knows what he's doing out there. He's always calm. I think he's got a bright future. If he stays healthy and sticks with us and our plan and continues to do everything right, he'll be fine."

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