BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's no secret the Pirates preach to their pitchers the importance of working down -- fastballs down in the zone on a downhill plane. Jameson Taillon heard this message often as he worked his way through Pittsburgh's system.But the "last piece of the puzzle" for Taillon, he
BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's no secret the Pirates preach to their pitchers the importance of working down -- fastballs down in the zone on a downhill plane. Jameson Taillon heard this message often as he worked his way through Pittsburgh's system.
But the "last piece of the puzzle" for Taillon, he said, is going up. He worked on that in his first Spring Training outing on Monday, throwing four-seam fastballs up in the zone as he worked two scoreless innings against the Red Sox. Taillon believes that is an area in which he can improve as he takes on a more significant role in Pittsburgh's rotation.
"I can elevate to the middle," he said, dryly. "I had a tough time elevating them the way I wanted to elevate them."
Though he's perhaps better known for his control and his curveball, Taillon's fastball has averaged 95 mph in the Majors. That's swing-and-miss velocity, even more so if he's commanding the bottom of the zone and changing hitters' eye levels. Elevated fastballs may be an effective counter-punch to the growing number of hitters implementing swing adjustments designed to create more lift. But if a fastball isn't elevated enough, it could land right in the middle of the strike zone.
"If you get hit a couple times throwing those, you might get a little shell-shocked," Taillon said. "But with a fastball like mine, if I can command it to the right spot, I think that could be a really big pitch for me, especially late in counts."
Trevor Williams was particularly effective with that strategy last season. Manager Clint Hurdle has praised Williams' ability to keep hitters off balance by going up, down, in and away. Williams learned the merits of that approach in college from a pitching coach who stressed the value of perceived velocity.
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Williams' four-seam fastball clocked in at 92.7 mph last season, according to Statcast™, but opponents hit just .244 with a .376 slugging percentage against it. His 90.3-mph two-seamer yielded a .250 opponents average and .320 slugging clip.
"I'm not a premium fastball guy, so I have to make my fastball appear faster than it is," said Williams, whose four-seamer clocked in at 92.7 mph last season. "It's just constantly moving the ball around. I have to do that especially because I'm not a premium fastball guy. My premium fastball is being able to spot my fastball so that I have premium accuracy or location. I can't spot up 97 [mph]. I can't throw 100 by guys. I have to use my 92, 94, 95 when I need it."
Around the horn
• Left-hander Steven Brault, who could secure a spot on the Opening Day roster in the bullpen and serve as rotation depth, tossed two hitless innings against the Braves on Tuesday at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Brault allowed one walk and struck out Nick Markakis.
• Right-hander A.J. Schugel (right shoulder discomfort) remains sidelined and shut down from throwing. He said he hopes the injury will only keep him off the mound for a few days after it forced him to exit Sunday's game. Schugel missed time due to a shoulder injury in September 2016. Now out of Minor League options, he is competing for a spot in the bullpen.
• Right-hander Jordan Milbrath, competing for a bullpen spot, tossed a scoreless third inning against the Braves. Milbrath struck out the leadoff hitter, walked former Pirates catcher Chris Stewart, gave up a single then induced a double-play grounder. Milbrath's ability to generate ground balls piqued Pittsburgh's interest in the Rule 5 Draft, as 74.47 percent of the balls put in play against him in the Minors last season were on the ground.
The Pirates will be back on the road Wednesday to face the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. Right-handers Chad Kuhl (Wednesday's starter) and Trevor Williams are scheduled to pitch for the first time this spring. They will be followed by righty relievers Kyle Crick, Casey Sadler and Edgar Santana and left-hander Josh Smoker.
The broadcast can be heard via an exclusive webcast and Gameday Audio.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.