BRADENTON, Fla. – Felipe Rivero is having a nice spring.
After throwing two perfect innings today with three strikeouts, he now has no runs and one hit allowed in seven innings, with nine strikeouts. But the most impressive stat he’s put up has been the walk total: Zero.
Rivero has shown some dominant stuff, with his changeup being one of the best swing and miss pitches in baseball, and elite fastball velocity for any hand coming from the left side. But control has always held him back, with a 3.86 BB/9 last year. So it’s encouraging to see him off to such a great start with the walks this year.
According to Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle, that was a big focus for Rivero coming into the season.
“One of his comments in his entrance interview was ‘I need to pound the zone. I gave up too many free passes. I want people to swing the bat to beat me,'” Hurdle said. “He’s in tune. He’s aware. And so far what he’s done is make people swing the bat, stayed ahead in counts.”
Hurdle mentioned that this approach doesn’t mean Rivero is pitching to avoid walks. There was an at-bat today where he went 3-2 and threw a changeup, rather than a fastball to avoid the walk.
“He threw a 3-2 changeup today in a situation that, if a guy was worried about walking people, he might not have thrown a 3-2 changeup, even if it is Spring Training,” Hurdle said. “I like where he’s going with it.”
Rivero is looking great so far this spring, and could be turning into a pitcher who will make everyone forget Mark Melancon very quickly.
“The velocity is firm,” Hurdle said. “He’s mixing pitches. He’s throwing his changeup, his curveball, and his slider. He’s throwing his fastball, trying to get it down and elevated when he wants. As far as pitch execution, it’s been fun to watch. Today he doubled up and pitched the second inning and handled that extremely well.”
The Pirates have Rivero under control for the next five seasons, including 2017. If he does figure out a way to reduce his walks and maintain his dominant stuff, they could have one of the best relievers in baseball on their team for a long time.
Yesterday, Tony Watson pitched two innings over at Pirate City. I didn’t get a chance to catch up with him after the start, since I was focused on Mitch Keller on the other field. I did see an inning of Watson’s outing, and talked with him today about the work he got in.
“I felt like my stuff was good,” Watson said. “[Scott Mitchell] was over there. Doing things delivery-wise, timing-wise, just trying to get things tightened up. We’ve got two weeks left now, so we’ve got to clean those things up and then get into compete mode to go out there and get after it these last couple of weeks and get into the season.”
One concern was that Watson was only throwing 88-90 MPH, which is well down from his usual velocity. The velocity took a dip last year, but was still higher than yesterday. Watson didn’t get the velocity after his start, and said he feels fine.
“I didn’t even know that was it yesterday,” Watson said. “Everything feels good. Maybe over there it just wasn’t coming out as good. It feels great.”
It wasn’t long ago that there were concerns about an early season velocity drop for Mark Melancon, and those disappeared quickly. Hopefully that’s the case with Watson, and he gets into a more normal mode when the season rolls around.
As for Keller, Watson got a chance to see a bit of his outing, and was telling his teammates back at LECOM about the young prospect.
“He seemed to be pitching well,” Watson said. “Any time you’re not getting a ‘roll it’ and you’re getting a ‘stay out there’, you’re doing well.”
Alen Hanson’s Role on the Team
Alen Hanson has a spot on the team pretty much locked up due to being out of options. However, it appears the Pirates are looking at him for a very specific role off the bench, with his speed playing a weapon.
“It’s a part of the skill set that we don’t have a lot of,” Hurdle said. “The skill factor, the speed, the ability to steal a base, the ability to put down a bunt, beat out an infield hit, score from first. He can do some things on the bases that we don’t have a lot of. A wonderful asset to have is a guy who can steal a base when everybody knows you need to steal a base. We’re looking for him to possibly grow into that spot if he can do that. That’s one of the things that’s out there for him to do.”
Hanson’s versatility will work well on the team, making him an option as a super utility guy. If he ever wants to work his way out of that, he’s going to need to hit consistently. He swings for the fences way too often for that to be likely, and it doesn’t sound like the Pirates expect that approach to change.
“He’s a slasher at the plate. You’re not going to change the man,” Hurdle said. “You like the way he’s been attacking the strike zone now with the bat. He’s been moving the ball around. One day he pulled a lot of balls. Today he’s moving the ball around the field, slice the ball down the third base line as well. His game is in a good place right now. He’s competing well.”
**Drew Hutchison had a rough outing today, giving up six runs in 3.1 innings of work. Things started to fall apart on him in the second, and continued into the third and fourth innings, as he lost command of his pitches and worked outside of the zone.
“I don’t think you could have asked for a more efficient first inning. He was like a sharp shooter out there,” Hurdle said. “And then for whatever reason, things flipped on him. Behind in counts. Seemed to get a little quick, because the arm dragged, and the number of balls thrown high and wide and arm side up. Pitches elevated. A lot of three ball counts, extended counts. The overall execution wasn’t what we’ve seen earlier.”
**John Jaso got a start in right field, and had a potential throwing play taken away from him by Austin Meadows, who was playing center field. Jaso was lined up to catch a fly ball and make a throw to get the runner at home. Meadows was running hard to his left and called Jaso off to make the catch, but didn’t have a shot at making the throw, due to his momentum. After the game, Hurdle praised Jaso’s work in the outfield, and said that he could learn to take charge of that in the future.
“I like what he’s doing out there. He’s making plays,” Hurdle said. “Actually, today, I told him if that happens again, call the center fielder off and make the play. You’re the guy lined up, you’ve got the momentum going. But truth be told, the center fielder called him off, he did what he’s supposed to do. He’s handled the plays that he had the opportunity to make. The routes have been pretty clean. It’s been good to watch him out there.”
**Trevor Williams threw four innings in a B-game against the Orioles down in Sarasota. Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez each threw an inning in the same game.