PITTSBURGH — For a man once considered one of the most promising prospects in all of organized pro baseball, the standard for Tyler Glasnow has lowered considerably.
“He got outs,” was how Clint Hurdle began his assessment of Glasnow’s three-inning performance against the Twins on Wednesday night at PNC Park.
“He picked up the bullpen and he got outs. That’s what I noticed.”
Hey, I suppose that’s better than the alternative, but the fact that Hurdle’s mind went right to cold-hard practicalities tells us where the Pirates’ collective head is located regarding Glasnow’s current role as low-leverage long reliever.
If there are any expectations of him rising to a prominent position, they are currently buried deep below the surface. Hurdle lightly chastised a reporter Thursday for even suggesting that Glasnow could graduate to higher-impact roles.
“We need to leave him alone right now, I believe, and just give him an opportunity to continue to develop and hunt outs like he is in the role that he is,” Hurdle said. “Give the man an opportunity to gain some traction, get his feet on the ground and see where he goes.”
After striking out five Twins in three innings on a frigid Wednesday night, Glasnow was sticking to the humble script.
“It was good,” he said. “It was fine. The job was to go out and save the bullpen and (I) got through the three innings.”
It’s hard to be prideful when you have an average leverage index of 0.37, the lowest among Pirates pitchers. Josh Smoker leads at 2.50, for what it’s worth. But I wouldn’t be writing this if there wasn’t something about Glasnow’s performance that was relevant in regards to his major-league future.
For one, Glasnow has thrown just two varieties of pitches in his five relief innings: Four-seam fastball and curveball. In previous Pirates stints, he’s at least mixed in two-seamers and changeups. Not so this time.
I think just staying aggressive, getting my curveball over,” Glasnow said. “I could throw it for a strikeout pitch. Fastball location was alright.”
To Glasnow’s point about the curveball, he’s thrown 39 percent out of the strike zone for balls in the opening week, compared to 42 percent in previous MLB experience. So, it’s a small-sample-size improvement, but not a massive one.
Perhaps Glasnow’s much-ballyhooed stuff is playing up. Outcome data suggests that might be the case, with hitters either whiffing or fouling Glasnow’s fastball 73 percent of the time, a 6 percent increase over pre-2018 results. His curveball is doing even better, with 79 percent leading to empty swings, compared to 67 percent previously.
Glasnow admits that his motion feels better than in years past, at least at this level.
“I’ve done everything I can with athletic ability rather than by a step-by-step, so just going out and competing, really,” he said. “I just think you have to go out there and be an athlete. I feel like I have to be a little quicker. It’s what I’ve been focusing on in the spring, but you go out in the game, that’s the only way to tell if it’s working.”
File all of this away for later, should Glasnow continue the modest success. He has seven strikeouts in his five innings, but also four walks. The control issue hasn’t been magically fixed.
At the same time, there are enough ‘wow’ moments like Wednesday night, when he blew away Miguel Sanó with consecutive fastballs, that remind of the potential within that seven-foot wingspan.
“I think it’s just the experience of last year and spring and this I think a lot of it is getting confidence and feeling comfortable up there,” Glasnow remarked. “Felt good in spring and vibing with it now.”
Oh, and before we move on, Glasnow probably shouldn’t have any earned runs against him since the one that did come across was tainted by what appeared to be a faulty replay review.
In the seventh inning Wednesday, Glasnow seemed to pick off Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario at first base, but the Pirates’ challenge went unfulfilled despite heavy circumstantial evidence that indicated Josh Bell got the tag down:
“I thought he was out,” Bell said. “I guess they didn’t have the right angle.”
The vagaries of replay aside, that Glasnow fooled any major-league baserunner with a pickoff move is newsworthy. With Glasnow’s natural athleticism, there’s no reason he can’t be at least average in helping control the opponent’s running game.
“I feel like if he puts it on the money,” Bell said, “we’ve got a chance every time.”
“He’s had quick feet,” Hurdle said. “Showing some improvement for sure.”
The same could be said for his entire game, even if the Pirates are keeping anything that resembles public praise under their hats for now.