INDIANAPOLIS — All eyes are on him, but Drew Hutchison has not had an auspicious beginning to his career with the Pirates organization.
Hutchison was the lone piece to come over from the Blue Jays in the much ballyhooed trade that shipped out Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano, and prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez.
And when you’re the lone piece of one side of the trade, much less a multi-player trade, it’s easy to figure out whose shoulders the success of the deal rest on. So, yeah, no pressure.
Hutchison has made 73 career major league starts, all with the Blue Jays since 2012. But he had never been traded and getting acclimated to a new organization may have played a part in his performance during his first start with Triple-A Indianapolis last week at Columbus. The outing wasn’t awful, but not great either.He gave up a two-run home run in the first inning against Columbus and had control issues in the fifth inning.
“I’m sure even with his experience there was a little bit of anxiety in that start,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said, noting many players can put pressure on themselves when traded. “I think they do it all the time and not trying to speak for [Hutchison] — but yeah, especially with the three players and one is Francisco Liriano. But then they throw in two prospects and then it’s like, ‘Woah.’ I’m sure there was a little bit of that going into his first start with everybody wanting to see how he did.”
As soon as the notion, or more specifically, just the word “anxiety” was brought up to Hutchison when discussing his first start, he quickly interjected.
“No I don’t think that had anything to do with the performance,” Hutchison said. “I think I was just a little off. It’s been a different week from anything I’ve experienced. But I wouldn’t say it was anxiety or anything like that — just trying to get here, get to know everyone and get started here.”
Hutchison’s second start, against Toledo on Monday, began well with four shutout innings. But then the fifth inning rolled around and Hutchison allowed five runs before getting pulled. But a different issue arose in this start: he had a callus break open on his throwing thumb at the beginning of the fifth inning. That hindered his grip, which in turn, led to command issues.
But two less than spectacular outings — both with extenuating circumstances — isn’t likely going to sway how Pirates management view Hutchison. He’s a player the organization has been trying to acquire for several years, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said to a group of reporters, including Alan Saunders of Pirates Prospects.
“Like the other pitchers we’ve had success with, he has quality pitches, whether it’s the fastball or the ability to keep the fastball out of the center of the plate,” Huntington said. “There’s velocity. This is not a feel-to-pitch right-hander. This is a guy we’ve seen up to 95 in the past. He can spin a breaking ball. He can throw a changeup to both sides, right and left. He can throw it behind in the count.”
All it took was one start for Treanor to have confidence in the way Hutchison pitches, watching him use both sides of the plate. His breaking ball was good, while his changeup was solid. Hutchison also impressed by being able to bounce back from command issues to pitch a pair of scoreless inning afterwards in the start at Columbus.
“He has a tendency to elevate the ball,” Treanor said. “But he knows how to elevate the ball and when to elevate the ball, so I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Hutchison made 19 starts with Triple-A Buffalo this season, compiling a 3.39 ERA in 109 innings. He struck out 115 and walked just 39. But he was stuck in Triple-A because the Blue Jays have remained consistent with a starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman.
“Our indicators show that our surface results are what we would expect them to be,” Huntington said. “We feel that changing leagues … right now he’s stuck behind a pretty good rotation. We’d take all five of those starters and put them into our rotation without thinking twice about it. That’s why he’s in Triple-A. Like the other pitchers we’ve had some success with, the indicators are there, the scouts like the pitcher, and we feel like there are some things we can do to help him.”
Hutchison said he hasn’t had any extended conversations about changes to pitching style or otherwise, noting he’s working on getting acclimated to his new teammates and organization.
Treanor said there’s one main attribute Hutchison needs to show in the near future: consistency.
“It’s obvious he’s going to go there at some point, whether it’s before September or September,” Treanor said. “I just think he needs to get consistent with his stuff and kind of get a feel for the organization and what our pitching philosophy is. I think it was a solid first outing but I’m sure he wasn’t happy with it.”
Hutchison had a 5.57 ERA and 4.21 xFIP in 28 starts with the Blue Jays last season; while he had a 4.48 ERA and 3.82 xFIP in 32 starts in 2014. Those results, mixed in with the potential they see in Hutchison, made him one of the organization’s next reclamation projects with hopes of the success they found with Liriano, A.J. Burnett, and Edinson Volquez.
“Subjectively, our guys like the pitcher, they like the athlete, the intelligence, they like the feel to pitch, the awareness, the swing recognition,” Huntington said. “Objectively, there are some things there that indicate there are better results on the horizon. As we broke down some things with his mechanics and his pitch sequencing and his pitch selection and uses, we thought there were some things we can help him with moving forward. It doesn’t always work, as we have some evidence here in the recent past, but there are the opportunities that we believe we need to take to roll this thing forward.”
The success of the trade will take quite some time to properly evaluate. And just two starts is too soon to pass complete judgment on Hutchison. A first start with a new organization is never going to be easy, but Hutchison recovered fairly well in that one. And Hutchison had thrown four shutout innings before a broken callus derailed his command in his second outing on Monday. But it appears as long as he shows some level of consistency with Indianapolis, Hutchison will get a chance to pitch with the Pirates this season and that will be the next small step in evaluating the benefit of the trade.