There Was a Different Tyler Glasnow on the Mound on Friday Night in Altoona

After Tyler Glasnow went four innings without giving up a walk last night, my initial thought was to point out how great his control looked. But then I remembered all of the times I did this in 2014, and all of the times his control would fall apart in an instant.

I don’t think I saw a game where Glasnow had strong control throughout the contest. He would look great for a few innings, then start to fall apart. The lapse in control would either last a few batters, a full inning, or the rest of the game until he was removed. So last night I waited for those control issues to show up.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And they never showed up.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one waiting. Glasnow’s pitching coach for the last two years, Justin Meccage, also was waiting to see if Glasnow would start to struggle with his control.

“I was waiting for that, just to see how he’d respond,” Meccage said. “He got a couple of guys on, and he shut it down.”

Meccage said that last night was as good as he’s ever seen Glasnow. The right-hander went six innings, giving up a run on four hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts. The lone run came as a result of a bad play in right field where Max Moroff and Stetson Allie let a pop up drop between them, allowing a runner to score. As for the control, Glasnow chalked it up to mental improvements.

“A lot of that was mental. That’s getting a lot better,” Glasnow said. “Just growing up and pitching more, that’s getting a lot easier.”

He was sitting 93-96 MPH with his fastball, mostly in the 93-94 range. He was getting ahead of hitters quickly with the fastball, and on a few occasions early he would unleash a two strike fastball high, getting a few batters to strike out swinging. The pitch was less controlled than the other pitches, and that approach was intentional.

“He’s done a good job of controlling his effort early in counts, and the opportunity to go beyond controlled effort with two strikes, and you saw that pick up of effort level with two strikes, and let it eat a little bit,” Meccage said. “That’s when you see a guy start turning into a really good pitcher, when they can control it and reach back when you really need it.”

Glasnow said he used to take this approach in high school, but hasn’t done it much in pro ball.

“I did it in high school, but once you get in the pros, they want you more focused in the zone,” Glasnow said. “I think adding that too, it opens up a curveball, and I can play with more pitches. It’s definitely a good thing to have.”

He was not only getting ahead of guys and striking guys out with the fastball, but he was doing the same thing with the curveball. He finished the third and fourth innings in the same way — freezing a batter with a curveball for a third strike. That’s not unusual for Glasnow, who has always had a strong curve. What is different is that he was using his curve early to get ahead of hitters. This is something he started working on in the Arizona Fall League, and he will be carrying it over to the 2015 season.

“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in my curveball,” Glasnow said. “It’s probably been one of the more comfortable pitches I’ve thrown. In high school too, I could throw it for strikes always. I think getting back to that, I think once you get in the rhythm a little bit, it’s a lot easier for me to control.”

Glasnow said that his curve was effective in the past when he would bounce it in the dirt, but that he’s improving on throwing it in the zone for strikes. He said that approach will make it harder for opposing hitters to sit on his fastball.

He didn’t throw the changeup much last night, saying that the Akron team wasn’t a good team to use the changeup against. The few pitches he did throw were inconsistent. Meccage said that a few of them looked good, while a few looked just OK. An American League scout I talked with said the changeup needs improvement, and that it came in looking like a batting practice fastball.

The pitch was sitting 85-88 MPH, which was down from the 88-90 MPH range that it had been in during a lot of the 2014 season. Meccage said that this was the range he wanted Glasnow to be in, working more in the lower end of last night’s range, with some sinking action to the pitch.

“If you can get a little life on 85-86 when you’re throwing 94-97, that’s pretty good,” Meccage said.

I saw a lot of Tyler Glasnow starts last year, and last night’s outing was completely different. He was starting to focus on pitching, rather than development. Last year he focused on using the changeup frequently to improve the pitch, regardless of the opponents. Last night he didn’t use the pitch as much, because it wouldn’t work against that team. Last year he focused on getting ahead with the fastball and commanding the pitch at all times. Last night he was also getting ahead with the curve, and was letting the fastball loose in certain counts.

This was the first time I’ve seen Glasnow really focus on being a pitcher, rather than a guy focused on developing his pitches. The results were outstanding on this night, and gave a glimpse of the guy who could one day be the best starter in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation.