Antonini Moving Quickly

Antonini began the seasn in Savannah

Coming into the season, 2007 18th round pick Michael Antonini was an unlikely name many would follow. However, after a strong start in Savannah and then an even stronger showing in St. Lucie, the 23-year-old left-hander is now onto Binghamton becoming the first player this season to jump two long-season squads. Antonini explained what got him to this stage.

Last season, Michael Antonini was not even a full time starting pitcher. The left-hander began the year in Kingsport before moving onto Brooklyn after five Appalachian League appearances, including three starts. In Brooklyn, his role was the same, sharing time in a starting and relief role as he made two starts in seven appearances. In 36 2/3 combined innings pitched, he tallied a 1-1 record and 1.96 ERA, showing great control with only seven walks and a .216 opponent's batting average.

Heading into 2008, Antonini received a more defined role as he broke Spring Training as the Opening Day starter for the Savannah Sandgnats, setting him on course for one of the most successful seasons of any pitcher on the farm. The positive signs came right out of the chute as the southpaw tossed six hitless innings in that Opening Day start.

"I wasn't really expecting that, that's for sure. I just wanted to go out there and put my team in position to win knowing that I was trying to get through as many innings as possible because I was on a pitch count. I wasn't paying attention to how many innings was out there, but just trying to stay out there as long as possible," he said of his stunning outing.

Moving forward, Antonini has continued to build consistency and very little has slowed him down no matter what level the he has appeared. He wrapped up his time in Savannah with an even 4-4 record, but a 2.71 ERA in 13 starts. In early June, he made the leap to St. Lucie where he was even more impressive, racking up a 4-0 record and a 1.84 ERA, 33 strikeouts and seven walks in seven starts before earning his last promotion to Binghamton on July 24.
"Things have just been going great for me this year. I couldn't have planned it any better. I'm sticking to plan of just going out there, throwing strikes, getting outs, not trying to overdo things and I've been successful at that. The organization is giving me the opportunity to move up the ladder pretty quickly and I'm really grateful for those opportunities," he said.

With a climb from promotions unmatched by any in the lower levels of the organization, Antonini admitted that his ascension has even come as a surprise to him despite such fine statistical success.

"Once I found out I was going to Savannah to start the season, I told myself I hope to end the year in St. Lucie and pitch well there. I had no idea I'd be able to get to Binghamton and try and finish the year there. I'm happy with the moves and I'm doing my best to win as much as I can and win the respect of my teammates," he explained.

One significant cause for his improvements this season is his ability to locate his 90-92 MPH fastball. Though coming from the left side, he does not possess the velocity to blow it by many hitters which forces him to hit his spots on the corners. It is that skill which allows him to avoid serious contact and still ring up a very respectable amount of strikeouts.

"This year, I've done a lot better job locating my fastball both inside and outside, changing angles and always keeping the batter guessing about which side of the plate I'm putting my fastball," he said.

Antonini does change speeds well though thanks to a rapidly improving changeup which he can routinely throw for strikes. To the left-hander, its growth is also a likely cause for his effectiveness at any level this season.

"I'm really happy with my changeup right now," he said. "It's come a long way from where it was in college when I didn't throw it too much over the last two years. Now I've got to the point where I can use it as out pitch to right-handers. I like to use it as a double-play ball when I can and it can help me limit my pitch count which is the priority as a starter."

The last element to his success is a more educated approach to game preparation. From pre-game hitter analysis with his catchers to one-on-one work with pitching coach Dan Murray in St. Lucie, to Binghamton pitching coach Ricky Bones' steadiness, Antonini is finding out the importance of work completed between starts.

"I just try to stay with the same routine in my bullpens, my side sessions and before the game. So far that's really been helping me stay with my location. Moving up the levels and getting time with different teams has shown me how important it is to keep my routine and I think that's helped get to where I am, so I don't see changing anything now," he detailed.

"I know that as I move up, I really need to learn quicker from my mistakes and be sure that I'm always keeping the ball down more and more each outing."

After accomplishing more than he could have predicted when he began the season, he is fixed on maintaining the steady progression he has achieved so far.

"Moving up the levels and getting time with different teams has shown me how important it is to keep my routine and I think that's helped get to where I am, so I don't see changing anything now."

" I'd just want to go out and be successful. Wins and losses are important, but getting comfortable and learning more about my game is what the rest of the season will be about. Developing my pitches and showing I belong, that's the goal."

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