BRADENTON, Fla. -- It took an inning, but once Blue Jays right-hander Thomas Hatch found his groove on Friday, he showed why he continues to find himself in the club’s long-term rotation plans.
That first frame took Hatch 25 pitches, including more balls than strikes and a pair of walks. A throwing error by catcher Danny Jansen and an error charged to Hatch on a misfired pickoff attempt to third combined to allow a run to score without a hit. His first start of the spring ended in a 2-1 loss to the Pirates, but it’s best not to lean too heavily on the early numbers.
Hatch’s first priority as a starter is staying aggressive. Coming out of the bullpen in 2020, that aggression came naturally. In a starter’s role, he’ll need to keep that mindset alive even as he navigates through a lineup two or three times.
“I think my stuff plays well,” Hatch said. “There are times where I can be a little bit timid, but I don’t think that needs to be the case all the time. If I’m aggressive, no matter what, the stuff plays.”
On Friday, there was more specific emphasis on Hatch’s curveball. He “forced it,” meaning he threw that curveball a few times in situations he might not in the regular season, but he needed to test it in live game action.
Right now, Hatch is focused on building a foundation for that curveball. It doesn’t need to be a snapping breaking ball with hitters swinging over the top -- at least not yet -- but getting a consistent feel for the pitch is step one.
“Once we gain that feel and that confidence, we can start manipulating it for a swing-and-miss pitch in the dirt or commanding it to each side of the plate,” Hatch explained. “For now, it’s a strike pitch, but I’m looking forward to gaining that feel so we can manipulate it.”
Hatch's bread and butter looked just fine once he settled down. His fastball averaged 94.6 mph and his changeup, which plays off of that, continues to be deceptive.
“It’s an aggressive arm speed just like his fastball," said Jansen. "It’s got some drop on it. It’s definitely got some movement. Those guys with those great parachute changeups, they just pull back on speed with the same arm speed, and he’s got some drop to it. I’ve always got to be ready to block it and guys like swinging at it because it’s nasty.”
Pearson set to throw Saturday
At this stage of camp, though, manager Charlie Montoyo says that Pearson won’t be 100 percent stretched out by Opening Day. This leaves the Blue Jays with the decision of whether they want to stretch him out in live game action or send him to the alternate training site for a week or two, but the club will evaluate based on how close he is later in March.
Dolis aims for more of the same
Returning to the Major Leagues in 2020 after four seasons spent pitching in Japan, Rafael Dolis brought back a splitter. It worked, too, helping Dolis to a 1.50 ERA with 31 strikeouts over 24 innings. Don’t expect to see much of it in Florida, though, as Dolis is focusing on getting all of his pitches back into 2020 form.
“I’ll use my slider more and my two-seamer,” Dolis explained. “I can throw my splitter whenever I want, you know what I mean? Any count. I have to work a little bit more on my slider, because I know my splitter.”
That splitter was great in 2020, but Dolis’ slider held hitters to a .111 average and a .111 slugging percentage, including a 53.8 percent whiff rate. He needs to improve his walk rate, but with two legitimate swing-and-miss pitches, the strikeouts should always be there. Expect to see Dolis used in late, high-leverage innings after he earned Montoyo’s trust last season.
Extras from Bradenton
• Outfield prospect Chavez Young made another nice catch in right field, continuing a strong defensive spring. This time, he raced in on a sinking liner and scooped it at his shoelaces. With speed and defense, Young could follow a path similar to Jonathan Davis.
• The Pirates scored a strange run in the fifth, when Rodolfo Castro hit a deep fly ball to left. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. ranged back and made the catch, but the ball came out of his glove as he brought it back in to his body. It looked like Gurriel had control of the ball, but when he didn’t see the umpire wave off the catch, Castro raced around the bases. Gurriel eventually caught on and the Blue Jays got the ball to the plate, but not in time.