BRADENTON, Fl. – The Pirates set up a marquee pitching matchup today, putting Tyler Glasnow against Jameson Taillon in the Black and Gold game. Both pitchers have a chance to be pitching in Pittsburgh later in the year, but they’re both going to need some work on a few specific things, and those things showed up in today’s game.
In Glasnow’s case, he needs to continue refining his control, while working on dropping in his curveball for strikes early in the count, and improving his changeup. Glasnow didn’t have his best stuff in the first inning today, getting a little wild with his nerves running high. He walked Adam Frazier, and that eventually led to a two run first inning. Glasnow only got one out, before Clint Hurdle came out and ended the inning due to a pitch count limit.
“He’s still doing minor league hitters a favor when he throws a changeup, but he needs to throw it,” Neal Huntington said of what Glasnow needs to work on. “It needs to become not only a pitch for him that he can use, but a weapon for him. The consistency of the fastball command, and then the breaking ball. He can make hitters chase it. Better hitters chase it less frequently, so the ability to throw it for a strike will be a big development for him. Just continued refinement of his adrenalin and controlling his emotions. Command of the fastball improved. Breaking ball use and the changeup. Just continued refinement.”
Glasnow settled down in the second inning, striking out two batters, including getting his roommate, Josh Bell, on three pitches. So does that give Glasnow the bragging rights this Spring?
“Josh gets his fair share of hits off of me,” Glasnow said, after a laugh. “He’s a great hitter, and he’s my roommate, too, so I’m sure we will banter back and forth. It’s all out of love.”
Glasnow confirmed that he was rushing in the first inning due to being excited, and then toned it down for the second inning, which led to better control. That’s been an issue to watch, as he’s struggled in some big playoff games in the past in the minors. But today allowed Glasnow to get started on those things he needs to improve upon in order to eventually make the jump to the majors.
“Today was more going out there and working on a few things,” Glasnow said. “I wanted to throw the changeup, that is for sure. I didn’t want to go out there and think about mechanics, it’s been all mechanical so far. Just to go out there and throw was a good feeling. I just wanted to be competitive today and get some guys out.”
Taillon also had some nerves going, although in his case, it was due to a lack of game experience over the last few years. Today was the first day he pitched in an actual stadium since Spring Training 2014, before his Tommy John surgery, and the first time he faced this many upper level hitters in that amount of time. He was hit in the first inning, giving up a leadoff single to Alen Hanson, followed by an RBI double from Danny Ortiz to score Hanson from first. After that, Taillon had to take a moment to relax.
“I stepped off the mound and got the rosin bag,” Taillon said. “I was a little nervous. I had some adrenaline. It was kind of like a little baseball high I had out there. It was really fun to get out there competing again. I wasn’t mad I gave up those hits, but honestly, as cheesy as it sounds, I was just really happy to be out there.”
Taillon said that it was different going up against upper level guys, but that his arm feels fresh, and his pitches are working well.
“All of my pitches feel really crisp,” Taillon said. “My delivery feels good. I think getting back to figuring out what pitch to throw in different situations – reading a guy’s swing or judging off of a ground ball what I should throw next – things like that. A fast runner on first, mixing up my timing – I think those will be the last things to come, but I have time to work on it right now.”
Before the game, Taillon asked Ray Searage what he should be working on. Taillon had watched A.J. Burnett closely in previous years, and knew that Burnett would only throw all fastballs in his first outing.
“Those are guys I look up to and wanted to learn from,” Taillon said of Burnett and Searage. “I just wanted to see what his thoughts were and if we were on the same page, because it was my idea to really go out there and attack it like a regular season start – not treat it any differently. Everyone was on board with it.”
Taillon typically focuses on fastball command and arm strength first. He said the arm strength is already there and the fastball command feels “pretty good”, so he’s able to move on to controlling his nerves, and facing hitters like it’s a real game.
Prior to the game, Neal Huntington didn’t have an answer for whether there would be an innings limit for Taillon this year, after missing the last two seasons. He said that there won’t be a hard cap, but that they will take as many variables into consideration as they could, and try to build him up correctly.
“We want to be fair to him and put him in a position to be successful,” Huntington said. “That’s why he could have a lights out camp and still, in our minds, not be ready to help us win up here. There’s a bit of a unique circumstance, but we’re going to have to be cognizant of that, and build him up accordingly, and be patient with him, and see where we are in August and September. The challenge is you don’t want to leave innings that are available for him after the end of our season.”
From the sound of things, we shouldn’t expect Glasnow or Taillon to be early season options, although you can definitely expect them to arrive at some point this year, assuming their development is on track, and assuming a need comes up in the rotation, which is usually inevitable.
“Our hope is that we can turn the three or four months that Jeff Locke goes out there that are pretty strong into five or six months that are pretty strong,” Huntington said. “Look at Jon Niese and what he’s done prior to 2015, and what he did really the first half of 2015. Ryan Vogelsong, you look at what he did the first half of 2015, and what he’s done in prior seasons. In a perfect world, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are given extra innings in Triple-A to continue to refine and grow and develop. But if we have a need because of injury, and/or someone struggles up here, as we look at them later in the season, they’re pretty good options to have.”
Josh Bell didn’t have a great game, striking out against Tyler Glasnow on three pitches, and having a hard hit grounder that he didn’t come up with at first base. See both plays and hear him discuss his work and the bragging rights that Glasnow has over him.
Max Moroff hit an opposite field double off Jameson Taillon, and played third base. Hear him talk about both, and see the double.
Steven Brault discussed his work in early Spring Training, and then had some interesting things to say about what makes Elias Diaz such a good defensive catcher.
By Sean McCool
Unfortunately, someone had to pick up the loss today in the exhibition game, and Chad Kuhl was that guy today. Kuhl pitched the fifth and sixth innings in relief of Glasnow and Brault, and he allowed three runs in the fifth. Although the box score doesn’t look great, the runs came as a result of a few infield hits followed by a ground ball that found a hole through the infield.
Not focusing entirely on the stat line, Kuhl agreed with the sentiment of the other pitchers that being able to face live batters again was extremely important and enjoyable.
“It was definitely a fun experience,” Kuhl said after the game. “There were a lot of good things to take away. Above all, it’s just nice to be back out there working. It’s good to be back and throwing to live hitters.”
Kuhl, throws a two-seam, four-seam, changeup, and slider, and said that he primarily threw the slider in his first inning of work as his secondary pitch, striking out Alen Hanson and Jason Rogers. He threw the change-up as a secondary pitch in his second inning. The latter pitch is one that he has made some adjustments on going into this season.
“It has a little different grip,” Kuhl said about his change-up. “I worked on that today in my second inning. That will hopefully be a big pitch for me this year.”
As for the bad luck, he hopes to get it out of his system early before heading north.
“It is what it is,” Kuhl said, “but thankfully the hit was a ground ball and not a double to the gap or a home run. [Infield hits and bad luck] will happen, and hopefully I get them out of the way early in the season. It happens to everyone. You just have to stay with it.”
By Sean McCool
Trevor Williams, new to the organization this season, threw in front of fans with a Pirates uniform for the first time today. He relieved Glasnow and John Holdzkom, and he pitched two perfect innings and was credited with the win.
“It was great to pitch in front of fans and in a stadium setting,” Williams said after his outing. “It was good to finally get out there and pitch after a few weeks of Spring Training.”
Williams took a veteran approach by focusing on his fastball in the game, noting that everything he does works off of that one pitch.
“For me, everything works off of the fastball,” Williams said. “That is the first thing you have to dial in. If you are throwing a curveball and your fastball is not there, the curveball won’t be effective. Today, it was simply throwing the fastball to both corners. Right now, it’s really just being able to fill the zone up early.”
He joked that his goal in the game was to “throw strikes and not hit the first guy up.”
“Seeing hitters for the first time in a game setting is totally different [than practice]. We made the game plan to just cut the plate in half and let the ball do what it needs to do. We still have another month until the season, so we just continue to prepare.”
John Holdzkom had an amazing season in 2014, going from independent ball at the start of the year to pitching in the majors in the late innings of a playoff race. In 2015, it looked like he might play a big role in the bullpen, but he didn’t make the cut for the Opening Day roster, with the team opting to hold on to Arquimedes Caminero, who they would have lost if they would have cut him. Holdzkom then had his season derailed by shoulder issues, and never made the majors in 2015.
Neal Huntington said that the tall right-hander feels great. He spent most of the off-season in Bradenton, getting in shape, and getting healthy. Huntington said that Holdzkom is in a position where he can compete to make the club.
“When you’re [throwing] 96 MPH cutters, and they’re in the zone with all the deception he has, that can help a Major League team,” Huntington said. “The biggest priority for us is health. Second biggest priority is doing everything we can do to get him back to that 2014 level. It doesn’t matter if it’s left-handed or right-handed with the stuff that he’s throwing out there when he got to the big leagues with us. If we can get him back close to that, then he can absolutely help us this year, and we’ll see where he is in Spring Training.”