BRADENTON, Fla. –Right-hander Evan Meek is working on getting back to the All-Star pitcher that he was in 2010. After posting a 2.14 ERA over 70 appearances in 2010, Meek battled right shoulder tendonitis for most of last season, appearing in just 24 games with Pittsburgh.
For some pitchers, it can take a while to regain their velocity in spring training, needing to build up their arm strength and innings. Meek, who last season never got back to the heaters that he threw the year prior because of injuries, has yet to see his velocity back to what it once was. Meek is still three or four mph slower than it was several years ago.
“It’s certainty not what it was when Evan was the All-Star [in 2010],” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “But even that spring training, [he was] 94-95. He’s been 90-93 [this spring]. It’s spiked at times. The movement, the short cut when he trusts it is good. Other times you see it bigger. That means he’s not letting it fly the way you’d like him to. He’s making progress. He’s coming along. He’s gaining confidence. He’s gaining consistency and feel every single day. And that’s a good thing.”
The Pirates are not concerned that Meek won’t be able to regain the speed he was in 2010 when he would touch 96, 97 and even 98 MPH on the gun.
So far this spring, Meek has made two outings in the Grapefruit League where he’s allowed four earned runs on five hits over 1.2 innings with two walks and two strikeouts. Meek also threw 40 pitches over the weekend in a “B” game at Pirate City against the Minnesota Twins. The outing was similar to the 50 pitch bullpen session he threw in late February, saying that the outings were designed to help build his arm strength.
“When Evan was really good, the cut was short and late,” Huntington said. “When Evan’s not trusting it, the cut is bigger, and it’s not as sharp. Even within outings, you’ll see the variance in it…There are other times when you can tell he babies it a little bit because he’s probably trying to paint it. He’s not a painter. He’s a stuff guy, a power guy. The breaking ball is a little crisper, a little firmer in 2010 then we’ve seen so far this spring, but he’s using it effectively to get strikes and he can tighten it and get some chase with it too. He’s building arm strength. That’s the other component to it.”
Meek lost 16 pounds over the offseason by cycling in order to get into better shape and stay healthy so that he could bounce back this season.
“The injury should be in his past,” Huntington said. “He battled and it wasn’t the quickest, or easiest rehab for him. But there’s no reason physically that the velocity won’t come back. We expect it will and that’s what we’re working to build up now.”
Cheese in the ‘pen
Right-hander Jason Grilli has looked great so far this spring. Over three Grapefruit League games this season, Grilli has allowed no hits or runs over three innings with a walk and two strikeouts. The 35-year-old was impressive with Pittsburgh after the Bucs grabbed him from the Triple-A Iron Pigs (Philadelphia Phillies) in July of last year, posting a 2.48 ERA for the remainder of the season. This offseason the Bucs signed the righty to a one-year deal, and he looks to help hand the ball to Joel Hanrahan in the backend of the Bucco ‘pen.
“He pitched in meaningful situations,” Huntington said. “He took the baseball and got some big outs for us in leverage situations. He’s a veteran. He’s been around. It wasn’t an arm injury that caused him to miss 2010. It was a knee injury that he had in spring training. We actually tried to sign him that offseason as a free-agent, but lost out to Cleveland. We tracked him. Our scouts said that he could help us. We went out and were able to get him. He came out and helped us. It’s good stuff. It’s veteran experience. It’s fearlessness in the bullpen. It’s a slow heartbeat, and he wants the baseball, wants to compete. He’s still got a lot left in that arm. He’s still got a lot left to prove.”
Walker’s Back is A-Okay
Second Baseman Neil Walker was scratched from the lineup last Wednesday, and went on to miss four games of action due to low back tightness. But during today’s game against Philly, Walker seemed to feel perfectly fine making several diving plays on the field.
“It is, and that’s why we ran him back out there today, with the off day tomorrow, get him back on his feet,” Hurdle said. “He played a couple days in a row. We’ll start extending guys when we get back on the other side of the off day. But it’s good to see Walk out there. We’re a better team with him on the field. Obviously he’s feeling better the way he’s acting on the field.”