PITTSBURGH — In between his third start in the major leagues, which came Aug. 29 in Chicago and his fourth start, which came in his team’s 10-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers Sunday at PNC Park, Steven Brault was optioned to the Rookie-league Bristol Pirates to alleviate a roster crunch.
So he had some down time traveling and some time to think. Sometimes as a pitcher, that can be a good thing and sometimes, it can be bad.
What Brault was thinking about wasn’t his results. Coming in to this fourth start, he possessed a 3.86 ERA with seven walks and 12 strikeouts. Not hall-of-fame numbers, but certainly acceptable for a former 11th-round draft pick easing his way into the majors.
Instead, Brault was thinking about his 4.2 innings per start, his team’s worn-out bullpen and what he could do about that situation.
“Every day, when I’m thinking about my last start, going through video, it’s about how I can be better for my team and be able to go further in innings because I want to help the bullpen out,” he said. “It’s something that I want to do all the time.”
On that note, Brault mostly failed. It took him 84 pitches to get through five innings and the Pirates’ bullpen gave up nine runs behind him. But he did see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The first 2 1/2 to 3 innings, [I was] still kind of rushing,” he said. “Everything was fast. I was trying to breathe and trying to slow down, but I was having a hard time with it. As the game went on, I got better and better. Finally, in those last two innings, I felt relaxed. For the first time since being up here, I actually felt relaxed. A situation came up (getting pinch-hit for) and I understand, but I can’t wait to get back out there, give my team more innings next time and have it feel that way.”
In the first four innings, Brault got to two balls on nine of the 17 batters he faced, something that he and manager Clint Hurdle attributed to poor fastball command. Brault said it was mostly due to his comfort level on the mound.
“It’s still nerves,” he said. “It’s still the big leagues. That was my fourth start. It’s not going to be perfect. I’m not saying the next start is going to be perfect. But getting somewhere and moving forward and feeling actually comfortable on the mound for the first time was a big step. I felt good about today.”
He’ll get at least one more regular turn in the Pirates’ rotation until Gerrit Cole returns, and Brault wants it to be as normal of a situation as possible.
“This was my first time doing two starts in a row,” he said. “Even though I did get optioned in between, it was two starts in a row. … This is actually a rotation. This is a normal thing. We want this to become the new normal. You’ll never get comfortable, but you want it to be the new normal, so that every time you’re ready to go and you feel confident. I felt confident. It’s a slow process, but it’s getting better.”
As far as pitching deeper into games, he thinks he has the answer for that, too.
“I think it’s just going back to what I did those last three innings, feeling confident, being more pitch efficient and doing that over a whole game, starting with the first inning and not having those long innings with walks mixed it,” he said. “Being able to command the fastball, being able to pop both sides of the zone, that will be huge for me.”
CHANGE OF PACE
Brault used his changeup against the Brewers more frequently than he did in his first three starts. He thinks it can also be a weapon to get quick outs via ground balls, but he was also able to get some swings and misses with it.
“[Chris Stewart] and I were talking before the game,” he said. “The idea of the changeup is being able to throw it where we get ground balls and let the defense do the work. Sometimes, what’s going to happen is it’s going to be good and we’re going to get some swings and misses. That’s not a bad thing, either. Just being able to go to it and make sure it’s aggressive and not shy away from throwing it. It felt good today so we threw it a little bit more than we had before.”