Today was a camp day at Pirate City, which means intra squad games. Usually the Triple-A and Double-A teams go against each other on one field, with the A-ball teams squaring off on the opposite field.
The upper level game featured a matchup of the top two prospects in the system. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon were opposing each other, with Cole throwing against the Triple-A hitters, and Taillon going up against the Double-A crew. It was a regular start for either of them, since it doesn’t matter to the pitcher who the opposing pitcher was. For those in attendance, it was a chance to watch the top two pitchers in the system make what will probably be their final starts before the season. For the first three innings, both pitchers faced Travis Snider once per inning, with Snider combining to go 2-for-4 with a walk, a double, and a sacrifice fly. Snider had the double and walk against Cole, and a single and sacrifice fly to the wall against Taillon.
Cole pitched six shutout innings today. Cole wasn’t throwing with his usual velocity, sitting 92-94 MPH in the first three innings. He improved to 95-96 in the final innings. I thought this might have been due to the cold weather today, or because of a finger issue which had him getting medical tape between innings. It turned out that it was neither, and Cole has been dialing it back all Spring.
“It’s just Spring,” Cole said. “I’m not really trying to throw very hard. I probably got a little looser toward the end.”
As for the finger issue, Cole mentioned that it’s something that happens all the time. He cuts the side of his thumb because of the way that he pitches, although it doesn’t really impact his performance.
Cole made easy work of the Triple-A hitters. The one challenge he faced was when he gave up an opposite field double to Travis Snider. Cole threw an 88 MPH changeup, and Snider took it opposite field down the third base line for a double. The right-hander’s next stop will be Triple-A, where he made two starts last year. The second start, which came in the playoffs, didn’t go so well, with Cole being bounced early in the start. Cole won’t have to change much in his approach to adjust to the Triple-A hitters this year.
“You just take the same approach I had no matter who is in the box,” Cole said. “You’ve got to pitch a little more. Pitching a little more, I’ve been doing that since college, so that becomes more natural to me. So just sticking with what I do, creating angles, and locating the fastballs is pretty much how I attack, and I’m not going to change anything.”
Today was the first time Taillon went five innings this Spring, after going four innings a few times in his previous starts. He threw 79 pitches, and had two innings rolled due to reaching his pitch count. Taillon was scheduled to throw around 75 pitches on the day.
“I was pretty happy I got to go five today,” Taillon said. “That has me ready for the year. All my pitches feel pretty good. Same thing as always, just got to get them consistent.”
He said that his two-seam and curveball were both working today. He was throwing his fastball in the 93-95 range, touching 96. The highlight of the day was when he struck out Snider on a curveball. Taillon threw it low in the zone, and got Snider swinging and missing when the bottom fell out of the pitch. Taillon also had some success with his changeup today.
One issue for the top prospect this Spring has been elevating the fastball. That’s been a constant issue in his career, and one where he’s made some good improvements. However, in his previous outings he’s elevated his pitches, getting hit hard but not always paying for it. Today he looked better in that department, keeping the ball down most of the time.
“It’s just something I’ve got to keep working on,” Taillon said. “It’s really a mentality deal now. Just got to drive, in my head, think power down. Power all my power stuff down. It was there at times today, and sometimes I was leaving it up, but it will be there for me.”
The right-hander will face a different challenge pitching in Altoona this year. The Texas native threw in Bradenton at the start of the 2012 season. He skipped the cold April in West Virginia in 2011. This year will be the first time he’s thrown in cold weather, with the April temperatures in Altoona sometimes dropping into the 30s.
“I put my order in yesterday with my agent for some long johns and a bunch of long sleeve under shirts,” Taillon said. And his approach for handling the cold weather during the game? “Stay close to the heater in the dugout. That’s my goal.”
Another difference this year is that it will be the first time Taillon has been unleashed to just pitch. In 2011 he was on a strict innings limit. In 2012 he was working on specific things like his changeup and his fastball command. This year he’ll be able to just pitch and go deep into games.
“That’s the way I’m looking at it. Just go out there and get outs, go as deep as I can in the ballgames,” Taillon said.