Brault tweaks delivery in effort to be 5th starter

February 15th, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Last month, joked that he's never experienced the Spring Training that he hears other players talk about -- the relaxed camp where they just prepare for the season. Brault has always had to worry about winning a job.

The left-hander is once again competing for a spot on the Pirates' Opening Day roster. He's up for the fifth spot in the rotation, as are right-handers and . Brault could be a candidate for the bullpen, although the Bucs added left-handed options this winter in and .

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In that regard, this spring is nothing new for Brault. But there is something different. He made physical changes, tweaking his delivery in an effort to improve his command, and adopted a new mentality. In previous years, he'd say he wanted to force management to make a tough decision. Now?

"I want to make it an easy decision for them," Brault said. "I want to be the clear choice to be the starter going into the season."

To that end, Brault implemented a year-round throwing program -- he even played catch during a two-week trip to New Zealand over the offseason -- and modified his mechanics. The most noticeable change is a higher arm slot, but Brault also shortened his stride and his arm path.

"This year I actually wanted to work on stuff because my command was shoddy last year," Brault said. "I wanted to make sure that I actually worked throughout the offseason to get rid of that instead of just working to get ready for the season."

Brault promised that his changes would be "visually evident," and that was indeed the case as he took the mound to throw a bullpen session during Friday's workout at Pirate City. There's a theme to those tweaks: shorter, simpler.

"If you want to simplify," Brault said, "shorten things."

Brault wants his delivery to be more repeatable and consistent, believing his command will improve as a result. Brault led the Pirates with 57 walks last season while posting a 4.61 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 91 2/3 innings over 45 appearances. He was pleased on Friday with his fastball command, the foundation for any pitcher.

Pitching coach Ray Searage said Brault's adjustments were slight but "very significant" and also came away encouraged by his progress thus far.

"I only see positive things with Steven right now," Searage said. "I'm not going to fix anything that ain't broken. I'm going to let him go do his job. He's got a good handle on it. He's in a good place right now, and I don't want to do anything to disrupt that."

Around the horn

• The Pirates introduced a new drill to the standard pitchers' fielding practice this spring. With a group of pitchers positioned at shortstop, a coach swats tennis balls and racquetballs that each pitcher must field barehanded. The Pirates have used the drill in the Minors, viewing it as a way to enhance their pitchers' athleticism, agility and hand-eye coordination. As a bonus, pitchers seem to enjoy it.

Pirates pitchers posted a .915 fielding percentage last season, second worst in the Majors, and they ranked 26th with minus-6 Defensive Runs Saved.

"We need a lot of work off the mound fielding our position," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were 29th out of 30 clubs, so there's all kinds of opportunities to improve categorically whether it be fielding, whether it be throwing, whether it be holding runners, whether it be pickoffs, so there's a lot of work to be done this spring."

• Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, reported early for Spring Training on Friday. So did non-roster invitee , a switch-hitting super-utility man looking to win a spot on the Opening Day roster after playing only one game for the Brewers last season.

"He's healthy. He's been challenged physically," Hurdle said of Franklin. "It's a guy that we've actually had conversation about maybe at different points in time the last couple seasons. ... He's looking for a fresh start. The defensive versatility could help us. The ability to hit has been one of his strengths that's shown up at times. So we'll see where he can take this opportunity."

• Fifteen pitchers threw bullpen sessions during Friday's workout: , , , , Kingham, Lyles, , , , Liriano, , Mitch Keller, , JT Brubaker and Brault.

• Entercom on Friday announced the new broadcast team for the Pirates' pregame and postgame coverage on flagship station KDKA-FM. Joining former Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik in the broadcast booth will be Dan Zangrilli, who previously held the host role from 2012-16, and longtime producer Kraig Riley.