Pirates Notebook: Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow Get the Piggyback Treatment

PITTSBURGH — For the first time in quite a while, the Pirates will piggyback starters on Wednesday night, with Steven Brault getting the start and Tyler Glasnow coming in later on in the evening as the Pirates try to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Brault will pitch no more than the first five innings. Glasnow’s role will be a bit less strictly defined.

“On the back end of it, we’ll see how it plays out,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s a chance if it’s a close game and we have a lead, we’ll adjust in the eighth. Rivero will definitely throw the ninth with a lead for the save.”

Piggybacking starters is relatively common in the minors, but it’s the first time Hurdle has done it in Pittsburgh. Hurdle said he thinks it’s an interesting idea to pursue more of, at least in theory.

“I think in a vacuum, it has some things you can warm up to,” he said. “There’s an interesting situation in L.A. where (Alex) Wood has only thrown 90 pitches (nine) times. The performance rate has been pretty good. They’ve actually stayed away a lot from the third time through the lineup.”

But Hurdle cautioned that the arms of professional pitchers take a long time to get used to the well-established pattern of wear. Upsetting that apple cart across the board could have significant side effects.

“You’re going to get into a situation where, if that’s a model you want to present, you’re going to have to build it in at the minor leagues and be steadfast with it,” he said. “It’s a little different mindset than what they grow accustomed to as they’re being developed.”

For now, Hurdle said the piggyback will remain in his pocket simply to alleviate his current problem of too many pitchers and too few games.

“This is something that we’ve just found that’s the easiest solution with seven starters and 10 games and two off days,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something we’re planning on plugging into right away.”

WINTER BALL UPDATES

Jose Osuna and Elias Diaz are planning on playing in the Venezuelan Winter League despite the political turmoil in their home country. Hurdle said that the team is being cognizant of the situation, but did not make and special arrangements for the player.

“We have people connected to the situation, as we do other winter ball leagues,” he said. “We have scouts over there that live there that give you a very accurate description of the culture and the climate of the country at the time. As we get close, we’ll know more. The players are going to be very representative, because they’re not going to be in a hostile situation, as well. If they can’t play and there’s no league, then we’ll look at option B. They don’t seem to think that’s where it sits right now.”

Osuna said he’s hoping to play a good bit of third base while he’s at winter ball. He worked there in the spring and during extra infield practice all season, but has not played there in a major-league game.

INJURY UPDATES

***Catcher Francisco Cervelli (quad irritation) and second baseman Josh Harrison (broken hand) are both done for the season, but trainer Todd Tomcyzk confirmed that they are expected to have normal, healthy offseason in preparation for 2018.

***Austin Meadows (oblique strain) is heading to Florida to take part in the Pirates’ fall instructional league, where team will continue evaluating whether or not he’ll play this winter.

***Cole Tucker will be re-examined next week and the next step for him will be determined at that point. He’s hoping to play in the Arizona Fall League.

STARTING LINEUP

  • That’s a super interesting and enlightening discussion from Hurdle regarding pitchers. Is there a growing disconnect between the analytic and development staff?

    Hurdle seems to understand the TTO penalty. I can only imagine Dan Fox’s group understands the TTO penalty. Yet all you hear about developmentally is being more efficient, pitching to contact (out in 3 pitches or less), and going deeper into ballgames.

    • It does seem counter-productive. And honestly, given the number of reasonably capable young starters they have, it might not be a bad time next year to look at avoiding the TTO penalty by piggybacking starters regularly. If they want to contend in Cutch’s final year, they’ll need to make some roster moves, obviously, but they might also need to try something truly bold.

  • Why wait until winter league to give osuna starts at 3B? Pirates have nothing to lose. Really nothing.

    • Why move him to third at all? Defense has never been his calling card (best thing you can say about his outfield d is that he has a good arm, he’s adequate at first but nothing special) and so he should move to a more difficult position?

      I like Osuna but feel that trading him to a team like Toronto or Oakland where he can get some playing time at first and a little bit in the outfield and get a decent number of at bats as the DH would be best for him certainly and depending on the return, the team too.

      • I beg to differ on his defense at first. He’s a pretty good first baseman. I think better than Bell right now for sure. I agree that outfield isn’t his strong suit defensively. I’d agree that for him a different organization would offer more opportunity but what’s to be gained by the Pirates by trading him? He’s not going to garner much in the way of a return. If he’s going to be with the Pirates, let’s get his bat into the lineup. We have a hole at third right now. Like I said, what do they have to lose at this point? Zero.

        • I’d be fine with him starting at 1st against lefties if you can keep Bell in the lineup but at this point Bell is a first baseman only. I suppose my issue is that I don’t believe Osuna’s bat justifies being in the lineup weighted against his defensive shortcomings at any position besides first. Didn’t we learn this lesson from Pedro Alvarez?Unfortunately for him, the only position actually locked down for 2018 is first base. Why not try pairing Osuna and a Brault/Eppler/Kuhl rotation depth type pitcher to actually acquire a reasonable solution at third instead?

  • Randy Johnson didn’t turn into Randy Johnson until his sixth year in the league because he was all over the place with his control. Like Glasnow, his stuff was electric, but his command was poor, and he just couldn’t seem to coordinate his limbs. He was fine for five years because he got enough strikeouts, and he was able to suppress dingers enough, but he was a source of similar frustration to that Glasnow induces, too.

    I’m not saying Glasnow is going to be Randy Johnson, but there’s something in Johnson’s story that’s worth pointing out for Glasnow, and that’s the length. Tall pitchers are notorious for having spotty command when they first come up, because when everything is that far apart, it’s hard to get everything moving at the same time.

    Tonight, there was no problem with Glasnow mentally. He was trying to attack the zone. He wasn’t missing by much, either, and he didn’t get a single 50/50 strike call (many on pitches inside the strike zone). He came right at Braun.

    But I noticed something during the second inning he was out there. First, it was his leg kick. It seemed to vary dramatically pitch to pitch. Sometimes he’d pull it up high and slow, others were shorter and quicker. The pitch I thought he looked cleanest on, he kind of pointed his toe upwards and paused for a moment. Then I noticed his body was reacting differently to the recoil of each pitch. I couldn’t pick up anything with his arm slot or when different parts of his body did their thing for the pitch, but the beginning and end of each were definitely different.

    That’s not an attitude thing; it’s a mechanical thing. My guess is during the first batter of the second inning, he felt something off with his mechanics, and then he fought himself trying to find the delivery he’d used in the previous inning. That’s pretty typical for a lanky guy while he’s still young, and it’s especially true of a pitcher who’s undergone as much mechanical tweaking as Glasnow has the past couple years. The at bat against Braun with a runner on first and a one run lead proves–to me at least–that he’s not pitching scared or timid. He does trust his stuff. His problem still is, as it’s always been, that he loses his mechanics. He doesn’t repeat his delivery. Whether or not he susses that out is up in the air, but let’s not be hasty on writing the kid off because of some unfair perception about weakness of character.

    • Thanks. That helps restore some of my hope for the guy. To those of us who don’t have the depth of understanding of mechanics, he just seems clueless. I hope your take on him is correct.

    • After we suffer with six learning seasons, he’ll be gone. That career path offers no hope for Pirates fans unfortunately.

      • MLB needs to replace home plate umpires. He didn’t get 6-7 strikes that were in the box… lower half granted… but if he gets those he has 4 strike outs and no walks. These are strikes… not near strikes. Just crazy that they allow these umpires to call like this.

    • Randy Johnson had his first truly great season at 31. I hope Glasnow doesn’t take that long but a pitcher who truly good from the beginning is a rare breed. I thought that was Gerrit Cole but he has really regressed the past 2 years. The rhetoric on other message boards is that he wants out of PIttsburgh. He might want out of Pittsburgh but playing bad to get out would be costing him millions and would be stupid. Right now, he’s probably $15MM per year pitcher on maybe a 4 or 5 year deal. Had he built on 2015, he’d be looking at $25MM per year on 6 or 7 years, maybe more. It’s amazing the amount of late bloomers there are pitching wise. The likely Cy Youngs this year in Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber both didn’t really start looking anything like aces until their late 20’s. Scherzer at least was some what of a prospect. Kluber, on the other hand, was a throw-in on the deal that sent Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals and Ryan Ludwick to the Padres in 2010 and wasn’t even ranked in the Padres top 30 in 2010. He came out of nowhere.

    • Thanks for that very through look at TG. I will admit I was one who questioned his mental approach – Mechanics hopefully will be easier to master by repetition. He should stay in FL. and repeat his pitching motion over and over

      • “Keith Law: Losing faith that he’ll ever have the command and control to be a starter. It’s ace stuff, but I don’t think he’s ever had a delivery that he could repeat. It does look better today than it did in March, when I compared his delivery to Bert doing the pigeon.”

        Progress!

    • THANK YOU!!! Geez, people. Extremely tall pitchers just take longer. I vividly remember when Randy Johnson came up with the Expos that the talk was about how pitchers just aren’t meant to be that tall–too much can go wrong in the windup. I’ll underscore your opinion that I’m not predicting Glasnow will become Johnson, but EVEN Randy Johnson took years to get things figured out. Look it up and let’s at least give Glasnow a little more time before he’s tossed overboard into the “Complete and Total Bust” category.

  • Glasnow is the new Steve Blass. He is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. It appears once again he crapped his pants on the mound. Now so you think I am being to critical, I am a big fan and want nothing more for him then to succeed. However at this point I doubt it is possible.

  • Glasnow is toast. What a HUGE disappointment he has been. An honor graduate of the Pedro Alvarez School for Guys With Career Destroying Brain Glitches.

  • Clint looked pissed. Tough season showed in his trip to pull Passnow. Sometimes there’s just not enough rocks. Pirates in tailspin that continues into next season and beyond. This was supposed to be, at the very least, the prelude to greatness, not the debacle it truly is. Talent is not showing up at he highest level and our best players either drink too much, juice too much or quite frankly have been overhyped. When AJ ran this team it overachieved and was fueled by emotion, cool combination but not sustainable. This team is very much in disarray with no identity and more questions than answers.

  • Glasnow looked super good in the first. The walk was tough, with most of the pitches in the strike zone, but not being called, then blew away Braun, then induced very soft contact against Shaw.

    But he lost it completely in the second. Still a few pretty close balls, but when he absolutely needed strikes, he wasn’t even close. Looked like he lost his mechanics. Every pitch it looked like his body did something different.

    Diaz, on the other hand. What an arm on that kid.

  • YES!

    Though this is more about giving young guys innings with the expanded rosters in a lost season, I’m hoping they’re considering it as a strategy next year. It would help stabilize both an inconsistent rotation and a shallow bullpen, maximizing the assets they already have, which is a lot of talented but flawed young starting pitchers, and very few shut-down relievers.

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