BRADENTON, Fla. — As of this moment, Tyler Glasnow is a relief pitcher. He seems to like it.
The talented Pirates right-hander has had solid results as a starting pitcher in the minor-leagues, but hasn’t gotten that to translate to success in the majors. Last year, he was given a chance to prove that he could stick as a starter and wasn’t able to.
This year, he’s going to start things out in the bullpen and see where that takes him. It’s a different mindset, and it seems to be a fit. Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays at LECOM Park, Glasnow came in after starter Ivan Nova and pitched 3.2 innings, allowing five hits and two runs, but struck out six. He thought it was a pretty solid start to his relief career.
“It felt good,” he said. “A good amount of strikes. I just mixed fastball and curveball in pretty good today, just coming out of the pen, first time getting used to it.”
He also took to the new feeling of starting the game in the bullpen and waiting his turn.
“I liked sitting in there and watching the game and getting a good feel the first three innings,” he said. “I kinda like that you don’t know when you’re going to pitch. I mean, I knew today, but I liked warming up and getting good and just throughout the game, warming and up they tell you to go, there’s kinda like and adrenaline spike and it’s easy to warm up.”
Glasnow felt like the mental part of the game escaped him at times a season ago, but now he feels a lot more comfortable in his own skin in the majors and that’s allowed him to focus on making adjustments to his craft.
“Last year, when I was in the big leagues, I wasn’t myself,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to help myself. It was hard. (Ray Searage and I) would always bounce ideas off each other and he was always really supportive. … I think he’s seen a more consistent side of me.”
Searage said he’s seen a dramatic improvement in Glasnow this spring.
“Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes,” Searage said. “We are continuing to make adjustments and finding out things that were really embedded in there through his minor leagues and now at the major-league level. We are going to have to make some changes, and he has embraced it. He’s doing a really good job. He has a better idea about himself, more awareness of himself. Last year, he was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
One of the adjustments they’ve made is something that a lot of people have been talking about recently: the movement on Glasnow’s fastball. He’s not throwing a cutter, but his fastball is coming in with a significant tail to the glove side.
Glasnow said that’s actually more natural to him than trying to throw it straight, and it came up because of an adjustment he and Searage made to his pitching line. Instead of throwing across his body, Searage wanted Glasnow to throw more straight over the top and straighten his line to the plate.
“We’ve been trying to straighten out my line, so … when I’m on the ball, I’m pulling down on it,” Glasnow said. “I’m pronating after.”
Basically, the things that Glasnow was doing to try to keep his fastball straight, he can’t do any more with his new pitching line. But that’s still led to an acceptable result, because Glasnow has been able to control the tail.
“It’s easier to control that cut rather than me being inconsistent with it across,” he said. “I think, for me, it’s a lot easier to throw for strikes than a normal four-seam. My entire pro career, I’ve been trying to find ways to get rid of the cut and I’ve been trying to find ways to stop cutting it, thinking it was wrong. Now, this straight on thing, it’s easier for me to get right there and throw rather than trying to like get everything pronated. It’s just easier for me.”
Of course there are downsides to the amount of movement Glasnow’s new approach has induced in his fastball. He’s not going to have the kind of precise control that would be required to dot up corners. But if he can command it around the zone, throw it 98 (that’s where he was sitting most of the day Saturday) and get this kind of movement, it’s going to work out just fine for him.
Tyler Glasnow, 98mph Fastball/Cutting Action. pic.twitter.com/Vn7xph5nuD
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 24, 2018
The changes to his heater have been noticed in the fact that he’s cut down on one of his big bugaboos in the past: walks. Glasnow has walked five in 19.2 Spring Training innings while striking out 31. In the past, when Glasnow was having trouble with control, he would decrease his velocity. But thanks to playing up the tail, he’s been able to go full-bore with the fastball and be in or near the zone.
“Those are good numbers,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s Spring Training and another three days we’re going to wipe them all out. We’ll start for real and we’ll see where he can take it. It’s going to help his confidence, because there’s sequences where they’re big-league hitters. It’s not a back field. It’s not a Triple-A game. We believe in him.”
The next step, according to Searage, is putting in the off-the-field work that comes with being a relief pitcher. It’s a different mental approach than a starting pitcher, and one that requires focus and maturity.
“It’s knowing and making sure that you did your homework, so that when you go in there, when Euky (bullpen coach Euclides Rojas) tells you they might pinch-hit this guy or this guy is coming up to hit, you’re in the ballgame, they’re already prepared,” Searage said.
“They have to be accountable for knowing that stuff. (Steven) Brault and Glasnow and those guys will have to make sure they do their homework diligently. We’ve got things out there (in the bullpen) – they’ve got that iPad that we have the scouting report on – that they go over and make sure they do it. But that’s on the spur of the moment. I’d rather they prepare themselves on every team that we face that day, that night when they go home.”
The last part of the puzzle would be doing things that relief pitchers do that starting pitchers don’t — pitching on back-to-back days, getting up and getting warm without coming into the game, and coming into the game in the middle of an inning with runners on base. The first one the Pirates probably won’t try with Glasnow at this stage. The second one they will at some point, just to see how he reacts to it. The third one, well he almost seemed disappointed he didn’t get to do that on Saturday.
“Today I was — not hoping, I didn’t want (Ivan) Nova to have guys on — but I think I’d be really comfortable doing that,” Glasnow said “Going out there, that’s more of you just go out there and you’re pitching.”
That sure sounds like mentality of a pitcher that’s going to enjoy his time in the bullpen.
“I’m real happy with his progress,” Searage said. “He’s not a done deal by no means, but it’s really good to see.”