Batters were catching up to his 100 mph fastball, but Tides lefty DL Hall hopes to reclaim dominance with a tweak to his delivery

Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS
·5 min read

Hitting a 100-mph fastball is difficult, no matter the circumstances.

After processing the ball out of a pitcher’s hand, batters have only about 100-150 milliseconds to swing, according to a 2017 Seattle Times report.

But Norfolk Tides left-hander DL Hall was making it easier on his opponents.

Like a bad poker player, he had a tell.

A 6-foot-2, 23-year-old picked out of Georgia’s Valdosta High in the first round of the 2017 draft, Hall was somehow letting hitters know when his heater, which touches 101, was coming.

Hall, the fifth-ranked prospect in the Baltimore Orioles organization according to MLB.com, believes it’s part of why his ERA has grown to 5.17 after a rough June.

In his most recent start, Hall (1-3) surrendered seven earned runs in 3⅓ innings Sunday at Lehigh Valley. He’ll look to rebound — and tweak his delivery — Friday night at Harbor Park against Gwinnett.

“Batters were sitting in there knowing what was coming,” Hall said, declining to describe how he was tipping pitches in order to avoid letting his opponents know what to look for. “It’s never easy to pitch like that. That’s a little something new on my agenda. But I look forward to working on it.”

The work Hall has behind him is nothing to sneeze at. A left elbow strain cost him the final 3½ months of last season, which meant a long road back to competition.

Before the injury, he didn’t pitch in a game in 2020 because of the minor leagues’ COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Hall hasn’t pitched anything resembling a full season since 2019, at what was then high Class A Frederick.

Tides infielder Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect, saw Hall plenty in 2020, when the two were at the Orioles’ alternate training site.

Playing behind him for real has been a different experience.

“His stuff is, like, the best,” Henderson said. “How often do you see a lefty that throws 100? It’s just really awesome to be able to watch him, especially in games.”

First-year Norfolk manager Buck Britton, who managed Hall at Double-A Bowie for the portion of last season in which Hall was healthy, said the lefty is the real deal.

“He’s got electric stuff,” Britton said. “The command is an issue at times, but he’s not only young as far as age, but experience as well. He’s been hurt a lot and stuff, so we’re getting him on the mound consistently, building up some innings. This guy’s got a 100-mph fastball and some good off-speed weapons. So there’s a high ceiling for him. It’s just a matter of getting him built up and some consistency.”

Hall is a couple of inches shorter than most players who reach triple digits on the radar gun. A former quarterback and receiver on his high school football team and a shooting and point guard in basketball, he said there was no special drill or exercise that allowed him to generate such velocity.

His legs and his core, he said, do most of the work while he monitors the health of his shoulder.

“I think from a young age, I wanted to throw hard,” Hall said, his brown mullet dangling from the back of his cap. “I always threw harder, but I wanted to just keep progressing and progressing and keep getting better and better and throwing harder and harder. Growing up, I taught myself how to use every inch, every ounce of my body to get the most out of it that I could. I think that’s really translated into the pitcher I am today.”

Jordan Westburg, a versatile infielder, is playing behind Hall consistently for the first time this season. Like Henderson and Britton, Westburg finds himself in awe of Hall’s four-pitch arsenal.

“His stuff is incredible, some of the best that I’ve ever played behind at any level,” Westburg said. “I think that once it all clicks, it’s going to be really scary. He’s already pitching at a really high level, and I think there’s more in the tank. He’s an ultra-competitor. He’s really tough on himself, and I think that’s only going to help him to just continue to grow, continue to get better.”

Hall, who once scored 33 points in a win over a defending state champion basketball team that included future New Orleans Saints receiver Marquez Callaway — “he was pretty good. Me and him went at it that night,” Hall said — gave up football when he got his first college baseball offer as a sophomore.

He stayed with basketball, which he described as his “first love,” until baseball started making too much sense.

Hall turned down an offer from Florida State, his lifelong dream school, to accept a $3 million bonus offer from the Orioles and jumpstart his pro career.

To offset his fastball, Hall throws a curveball, a slider and a changeup that he believes is his best off-speed pitch.

That he was telegraphing some deliveries made them all easier to track. He hopes those days are over.

“It’s a very simple fix,” Hall said. “It makes me feel better to know that I wasn’t actually struggling that bad. It was a little easier on the batters when they knew what was coming.”

David Hall, david.hall@pilotonline.com