Balester Continues To Progress

"I'm a guy who takes a lot of pride in what I do."

After getting off to a slow start in 2006, Collin Balester has done his best so far in 2007 not to make it a trend. The hard throwing righty has been strong over his first two starts with Harrisburg, and it now appears that he's progressing quickly towards the big leagues. (Free Preview!)

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He is the Nationals best hope for a top of the rotation starter at the big league level in the near future and his name is Collin Balester. The Harrisburg Senators right-hander has had no shortage of bumps in the road in his rise up the minor league ladder, but Washington has become more and more impressed with how well he has come through adversity to become a better pitcher. This has been the story of Balester's young career. He is constantly progressing, and amazingly getting better and better with each game of experience.

"I feel like as a player and as a person this last year or so I have grown and learned so much," Balester told CapitolDugout.com. "And, just even in AA pitching every five days and just watching the game every night is helping me and teaching me good things for me to keep for down the road. I feel like I am becoming a better pitcher everyday. I mean, of course its a good feeling to know that I have opened eyes but I'm just looking forward to open even more eyes this year."

It isn't always a good way to judge a player on how his regular season will go, but if spring training means anything at all it should be a great ride for Collin Balester in 2007. Coming into camp as motivated as he's ever been, the 20-year-old Californian had an excellent spring training, leaving him confident and ready for the regular season.

"I feel like I had a strong spring," he said. "I came into camp more ready and focused then I have ever been and was looking to start spring training in shape like I was starting the season. I just worked hard and just pitched well every time I got the ball in spring training and feel great now because of the hard work I put in the off-season. And, I just continued that hard work this spring."

Balester has done well so far to continue opening those eyes, as he is currently 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings of work for the Harrisburg Senators. He also has 10 strikeouts oppose to just 2 walks. He ended the season on a very strong note in 2007, bouncing back from a tough first half. So, if there is any carry over from one season to the next it has certainly been evident for the young Nationals' prospect thus far.

"I think last year helped me a lot because in the beginning of the year I was struggling and needed to really bear down and learn how to focus when things weren't really going like I wanted them to go," the right-hander explained. "So, in the middle to the end of the season I really made it a goal to just focus and not care about anything else that was going on and just control stuff that I could control. And, good things will happen and they did. I really felt good about how I did overall last year and from the start of the off-season through spring training and the start of this year that is also a goal for me. I'm going to stick to it and really see how good I can become."

No one has ever doubted Balester's stuff, and when he is on he can be flat out electric. For him, however, it is not always about stuff. So, what has it been so far that has given him success in the early part of the season?

"I have made it a goal to have great fastball command and just challenge hitters with my fastball to get ahead," said Balester. "So far this year I have been getting ahead of hitters and this off-season I worked really hard on my changeup. I feel that that pitch is really good now an I can throw it at any time. As for my curve, I have just been throwing it too hard and trying to make it too good instead of just throwing it with good arm action. My pitching coach, Rick Tomlin, has been working with me a lot and has helped me a lot with all that too."

Perhaps one of the most significant reasons of all that the Nationals' top pitching prospect has done so well in the early part of the 2007 season is the experience factor. In a smart move, Washington gave Balester a taste of AA with Harrisburg at the end of last season. Now, he knows exactly what he is up against this time around.

"Well, yeah last year helped me because I got a little feel for the hitters and how they approach pitchers and different pitches," he told CapitolDugout.com. "And, I would say the biggest challenge is that the hitters won't swing at off-speed pitches if it doesn't look like its going to be in the strike zone. So, that's one big difference from High-A to AA and they don't miss mistake pitches."

So, is there pitching help on the horizon for the Washington Nationals and is Collin Balester the answer? He very well may be. With continued progress at his current learning curve, Balester's timetable for a debut in the capitol could now be winding down quickly. If that's the case then the team's fan base may want to know some more about the talented right-hander.

"I'm a guy who takes a lot of pride in what I do," he announced. "I really love to play baseball and will always compete no matter what. Also, I'm a fun guy and I'm just always trying to make people feel loose and relaxed around me. I just have a good time, but when it comes to baseball and game time I'm pretty serious about it."

"I just like trying and keep the clubhouse fun and relaxed," he added with a laugh. It may not be long before he is keeping another clubhouse loose and relaxed, the one at RFK.

If you wish to contact Frankie Piliere, he can be reached at fpiliere44@yahoo.com _____________________________________________________

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