TAMPA, Fla. – Nick Kingham has been following Jameson Taillon’s path back from Tommy John surgery. He worked out with him in the offseason, and has been trying to replicate what Taillon did in 2016, with an attempt to make the majors in the second half of the 2017 season. There may be another way that Kingham will follow Taillon’s path that goes beyond training.
One of the biggest changes for Taillon last year was a switch to using his two-seam fastball as his primary pitch. He had a two-seamer in high school, but the Pirates took it away to get him focusing on commanding the fastball. He got it back when he got to Double-A, and then realized last year that the pitch was his best fastball. It had similar velocity, and more movement, plus he was able to command it.
Kingham is starting to come to the same realization about his two-seamer.
The story with Kingham is the same. He threw the two-seam in high school, got it back in Altoona, but hasn’t thrown it as much. Kingham has an edge over Taillon in commanding the four-seam fastball, since he can place it where he wants and throws it on a downward plane. But the two-seam gives him more movement, and he’s finding the pitch has similar velocity.
“I’m really trying to get a feel for the two-seam,” Kingham said. “I really think that’s going to be a big pitch for me this year, so I’m trying to implement that as much as I can this spring.”
I asked Kingham if he was going to be making the same adjustment as Taillon, using the two-seam as his primary pitch. He hasn’t made the switch yet, but it sounds like he’s considering it.
“I think it could definitely be a primary pitch for me,” Kingham said. “Velocity has been pretty good, so I’m not flipping up there 90, 91s with the two-seams.”
Kingham has been hitting 92-94, touching 95 MPH with the two-seamer. He usually sits 92-95, touching 97-98 with the four-seam, so there’s not a lot of a difference in velocity when the two-seam is on. He also said that he has confidence in the two-seam, and can put the pitch where he wants it with confidence.
“I’m comfortable throwing that almost the majority of the time,” Kingham said. “And a little bit of action. A two-plane pitch is a little bit tougher to hit. I think it’s going to be a good staple of my repertoire.”
He went two innings today, looking sharp in the first frame. He ran into some issues in the second, giving up a run, but overall the outing was good as he built up to two innings.
“I felt like I threw some pretty good pitches,” Kingham said. “Holliday hit a ball, one that he should hit, to the wall. I feel good about everything I threw out there today. Extended to two innings. I feel good with where I’m at, and heading forward.”
Speaking of the two seam…
Last time out, Jameson Taillon didn’t have his usual sink on the two-seam fastball, which is something Clint Hurdle pointed out after the start a week ago today. He got a few extra days of rest, which were pre-planned as part of his build-up, and went two innings today. He also saw a much better two-seam fastball, with a lot more sink.
“Two-seam was good,” Taillon said. “Last start, four seam felt better. So when I’m good, I’m downhill, power sink, and I thought I was good to both sides of the plate with the two-seam, which was a good development for me. I threw maybe two curveballs, and one or two changeups.”
Taillon said that he was “really excited” before the last start, which doesn’t always work when throwing a sinker, since it leads to rushing the pitch. He talked with catcher Jacob Stallings before the game today and said that he wanted to focus on throwing strike one with a power sinker, and primarily focus on the two-seam, with the changeup only coming into play if there was a good count and a good opportunity.
“I saw my two-seam wasn’t playing as well in the last start,” Taillon said. “That’s a huge pitch for me. I think the rest of the spring, throwing strike one and power two-seams down in the zone is going to be a focus for me.”
The results were good, with Taillon throwing two perfect innings and striking out one. He has now thrown two outings with two innings, and even threw extra pitches in the bullpen after his start, aiming at an easier transition to three innings the next time out.
The Tommy John Trifecta
Taillon was followed by Kingham for two innings, and they were both followed by Clay Holmes. All three of those pitchers had Tommy John surgery in recent years, so it was interesting to see all three in the same game building up to two innings today.
“The Pirates have a lot of good people that work with us, that watch us every day, that go through the process with us,” Holmes said. “I do think it’s a testament to the Pirates. All the work they put into us, as far as the recovery and the rehab process.”
It’s not like this Tommy John trend exists with just these three pitchers. There are other players in camp who are returning from the surgery, as the epidemic in baseball has hit the Pirates pretty hard the last few years. Fortunately, the teammates have been able to help each other through the process.
“I feel like every year you’re seeing another friend that’s going through it,” Holmes said. “Helping each other out, the relationships we have with each other, that helps each other through it.”
Holmes looked good today, giving up two hits and striking out four in two shutout innings. He was getting his fastball up to 96 MPH, and getting a lot of swinging strikes.
“The ball is coming out really good right now. The best it’s been coming out since surgery,” Holmes said. “It’s good to see that. I threw mostly two-seamers today. The ball coming out with that movement, seeing those swings is always encouraging.”
Holmes is another guy who dropped the two-seam when he went pro, but added it back in Double-A. He also found that to be his better fastball, and made the switch to that being his primary pitch last year. He has also been working on a cutter/hard slider that complements the two-seamer. But he’s not using that exclusively as his out pitch, using the curveball a lot today.
“I’m not going to neglect the curveball,” Holmes said. “The cutter probably will be more for earlier in counts. It’s a smaller moving pitch for strikes, and just something to [add deception] with the two-seam.”
Taillon is a fixture in the Pirates’ rotation, and Kingham could arrive in the second half of the 2017 season. Holmes is more likely to arrive in 2018, after getting time in Indianapolis during the 2017 season.
The Pirates had Elvis Escobar, Casey Hughston, and Jerrick Suiter in the game today, giving some time to the minor leaguers. This isn’t a new process, as it’s something they’ve done every year Hurdle has been here.
“It gives them a little push, pat on the back, a lot of different ways to look at it,” Hurdle said after Saturday’s game. “Our player development people feel comfortable and confident in bringing these young men over at a time there will be a good opportunity to get experience for them.”
One thing I found interesting was that they brought up Adrian Valerio to get an at-bat on Saturday. Valerio is young, playing in Bristol last year, and not turning 20 until next week. He’s definitely a prospect, and it’s rare for the Pirates to bring up a guy that young and that far away from the majors.
“He’s young. We trust our player development people to bring him in,” Hurdle said. “The names they bring up, they felt he was a guy we could do this to and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”