BRADENTON, Fla. -- At 6-foot-10, Aaron Slegers definitely stands out among the crowd of pitchers hoping to win the fifth slot in the Pirates' rotation this spring. He’s hoping a fresh start and a new direction will help him stand out in others ways, too.
“We like the intent, we like the conviction and we like the focus he has brought into camp,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s been a pro.”
The right-hander allowed three runs on three hits in Sunday’s 10-4 loss to the Rays at LECOM Park. After a clean seventh inning, Slegers put himself into a jam in the eighth. A pair of slap singles and a hit batter loaded the bases for Dalton Kelly, who doubled off the top of the wall in left.
“I like the work he is doing. I just think the second inning got complicated,” Hurdle said. “It started off rough with two missed hits, and it’s first and second on two balls that weren’t hit at all. That’s an opportunity for a pitcher to maybe shut some things down and maybe get a ground ball, and he wasn’t able to do it.”
The 26-year-old righty, who had a 42.4 percent ground-ball rate the past two seasons, has introduced a new breaking ball to complement his sinker/slider combination this spring. If all goes well, he would be able to use it as a swing-and-miss pitch in two-strike counts to try to improve on his career 4.66 Ks per nine innings.
“I was looking to add another wrinkle with a little slower [velocity],” he said. “With where my arm slot is, I think it’ll always be a little slurvy and a little bit tilted. It’ll never be a true 12-to-6 kind of curveball, but I think with my release point being so high it still creates the depth I need.”
Slegers, who had been with the Minnesota organization for his entire pro career, spent the past two years bouncing between its big league club and its Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. In eight Major League appearances -- including five starts -- over the past two seasons, Slegers went 1-2 with a 5.90 ERA. He also battled shoulder injuries that cost him more than two months last season. He was designated for assignment by Minnesota in January to clear room on the 40-man roster after the Twins signed Nelson Cruz. The Pirates claimed him off waivers with the hopes that he could find enough consistency in his delivery to become an effective starter.
“There were some mechanical things, mostly directional with my lower half,” Slegers said. “I got in a bad habit of going toward the third-base side, which led to those inconsistencies throwing the baseball, and I think it inevitably led to the shoulder injury. As a big guy, when you start going the wrong direction, it’s really hard to bring all these long limbs back on track.
“It’s just a matter of keeping everything going in the right direction.”
Bucs center fielder Pablo Reyes found the ideal way to get a modicum of revenge after taking a fastball off the shoulder blade in the second inning. In his at-bat after being hit by a pitch from Oliver Drake, Reyes turned on an inside fastball from Rays reliever Jalen Beeks, sending it into the seats in left field for his second home run of the spring.
“He was up there with bad intentions to swing the bat and get things done,” Hurdle said. “Obviously they got his attention with that first at-bat.”
On a day when tempers flared over four hit batters, prompting a warning to pitchers for both teams, Reyes didn’t think there was any intention by Drake.
“I think he was trying to throw inside and he missed,” Reyes said.
Musgrove pitches sim game
Starter Joe Musgrove pitched two innings of a simulated game at the Pirates’ practice facility on Sunday. Starling Marte, Adam Frazier and Erik Gonzalez were among the big league hitters who saw action in that game.
The Pirates will get their first off day of the spring on Monday before returning to action on Tuesday against the Orioles in Sarasota at 1:05 p.m. ET. Chris Archer will make his spring debut, with Steven Brault, Michael Feliz, Tyler Lyons and Keone Kela scheduled to pitch in relief.