DJ Herz – Picture by Todd Johnson
When I plan my trips to watch South Bend play, I like to space out the days when I go, especially to Davenport because it is a decent drive and coming home at night is probably not the best thing for me to be driving across deer infested northwest Illinois. Normally, I don’t really plan my trip based on who’s pitching. It’s just a matter of luck. Last week, I was really lucky because I got to see DJ Herz pitch twice.
I first saw DJ pitch in-person last September up in Beloit and I came away extremely impressed with the young man on his way to being the Cubs Pitcher of the Year. He said his goal for 2022 was to win it again. He’s going to have his work cut out for him in the second half but not too much.
Last year, Herz had a 3.31 ERA in 81 innings. He struck out 131 and opponents batted .157 against him. His numbers are even better this year as he has a 2.17 ERA in 45.2 innings to go along with 68 strikeouts and a batting average against of .146.
Here are some observations I took away from his two games I saw this week.
In watching him get ready Tuesday, I wondered how much the heat was going to affect his outing as it was brutal in the sun. Still, Herz works extremely hard to prepare for the game. He’s not afraid of getting sweaty and loose. The game time temperature was close to 100. He came out to warm up wearing a number 21 jersey so he wouldn’t sweat through his usual number seven.
In the Quad Cities, I can stand about four feet from the bullpen and pick up what a pitcher is working fairly quickly. The first thing you notice about DJ is that basically only his heel is touching the left side of the rubber (facing home plate) which helps to account for why he is so deadly against lefties. They are just hitting .094 against him this year.
Let’s just say the first night was pretty much a wash. He did last three innings and he did allow one run, but you could tell that the heat was just draining him. When I talked to him on Thursday about his outing, he said that his legs were dead after the second inning. And that’s what the heat does to you, especially at that high of a temp.
The main takeaway I took from Tuesday was that hitters were laying off his off speed stuff. They would not swing at the changeup or the slider. They were sitting dead red fastball. In fact, he gave up four hits in three innings and he also walked three. Those were very uncharacteristic statistics for Mr. Herz. He wound up throwing over 70 pitches in three innings and he did not make it to the fourth.
This was already the third time he had pitched against Quad Cities this year. And to be honest, he had faced most of these players last year when they were in Columbia. The hitters looked like they had started to adjust to him, would DJ adjust back on Sunday?
On Sunday, let’s say the heat was not a factor.
The conditions were much cooler in the low 80s game time and Herz was much more crisp from the get-go. Because it was his second time pitching in the week, the Cubs normally don’t let him pitch very deep in that second game, usually about 50 pitches. He wound up throwing 51 in 2.2 innings. He only gave up one hit (a double) on the day and he allowed one run. Still, he actually was very efficient. It’s never easy seeing a team for the second time in a week because they have a pretty good memory of the first time. But DJ came a little different as he mixed his pitches well, didn’t work a lot of deep counts, and was extremely efficient in the zone. I really enjoyed watching him work!
DJ also told me earlier in the week that he is pretty much in development lock down. By that he means he’s just working on the three pitches that he has. He’s not trying to develop any new ones this summer, just improve the ones he currently throws. It’s more about commanding his fastball better, getting the breaking ball shaped the way he wants it, and keeping the changeup in the zone. And that’s all he’s doing. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy, either.
I’ve talked about DJ getting promoted several times over the last month. I’ve said the number one thing he needs to do is to be more efficient, but that’s just really being nitpicky. He can work on being efficient at Tennessee just as much as he can at South Bend.
In April this year, he had a 1.29 ERA and struck out 20 batters in 14 innings. In May, he had a 1.96 ERA and struck out 21 in 18 innings. In June, he’s struck out 27 in 13.1 innings and he probably has one more start left this month to improve on his 3.38 monthly ERA. However, that start should really be in Tennessee.
His numbers listed above should get him that bump up.
He’s ready for the next level. He can work on whatever he needs to work on up there just as much as he can at South Bend.
Still think Herz has some work to do for a promotion into the upper minors. In particular fastball and breaking ball command and power. Going solely by ERA and Ks is more fun and games than truly predictive