(Photo by Cheryl Pursell)
THE GAME: Friday August 11, 2017 against the Charlotte Knights. The game was the fifth game of a seven-game home stand for the IronPigs and it comes at a crucial point in the season. Lehigh Valley has fallen 7 1/2 games out in the IL North, but still have a scant one-game lead over Rochester for the wild card. Coming in at 47-70, the Knights would figure to be a team the ‘Pigs could feast on, but their 47th win came the previous night at Lehigh Valley.
THE BACKGROUND: By most accounts, Jose Taveras shouldn’t be pitching at Triple-A. At best, he should be at Double-A and it wouldn’t be a complete waste if he was still pitching at High-A Clearwater. His arrival at Triple-A was hastened by the number of pitchers getting called up to the majors and a few injuries to other pitchers along the way. Just when it seems things are going to straighten out, another injury pops up and things go back into shuffle mode.
In his debut with Lehigh Valley on August 1st, Taveras threw six shutout innings against Rochester as the IronPigs downed the Red Wings 3-1. Taveras followed that up with five more shutout innings in Buffalo on August 6th, but he issued six walks and struck out just three batters.
WHAT HE SHOWED:
Swinging Strikes/Called Strikes/Foul Balls: 29/22/10
First pitch strikes: 14 out of 27
Fastest Pitch: 90 (once); Slowest Pitch: 75 (once)
Leadoff men allowed on: 3 out of 6
Line: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, LP (1-1)
Taveras isn’t exactly what you would call a hard thrower. He hit 90 just once and was generally in the 87-89 range most of the night with his fastball. His change-up was generally in the high-70s and early in the game, he was able to get some outs with the pitch. Before long though, Charlotte hitters started to realize that Taveras tips his change-up badly by slowing down all of his mechanics when he’s going to the change. That, combined with the fact that he’s generally around the strike zone with the pitch made for some easy pickings.
Former Phillies third baseman/leftfielder Cody Asche recognized the change-up coming his way in the fifth and didn’t miss it, sending it well out to right field. Veteran Rob Brantly had done the same thing in the third inning when he sent a change-up well out of Coca-Cola Park to right field.
While the command on his change was pretty good, he was missing frequently with his fastball, and many times, was missing up in the zone.
In three of the six innings that he pitched, Taveras allowed a baserunner with two outs, including a two-out walk to Jake Peter just ahead of Asche’s home run in the fifth inning.
One big question is whether or not Taveras was pitching in some pain. In the third inning, Tyler Ladendorf lined a ball off Taveras’ left (non-pitching) arm and the ball bounded all the way over to third baseman Matt Williams, who had time to scoop the ball and throw Ladendorf out at first. After being examined by the trainer and throwing a couple warm-up pitches, Taveras was good-to-go and stayed in the game, but you have to figure that it was hurting. Taveras got the next two batters easily, but allowed a home run to Brantly on the first pitch of the next inning.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
As stated earlier, Taveras shouldn’t really be pitching at the Triple-A level, but he’s done a decent job in his first three outings. Even with the fairly rough outing against Charlotte, his ERA stands at a strong 1.59 with Lehigh Valley and his overall numbers with the IronPigs are good.
Pitchers can get away without throwing hard, but they need good location and strong secondary pitches. Taveras looked light on both in the outing, and the fact that he was tipping his change-up so strongly is going to be a concern.
There’s no denying that Taveras was able to get away with a lot of these things at the lower levels and he had a lot of success at those levels. Odds are that if he was given more time at the lower levels, these things would have been on the to-do list for the Phillies to have Taveras concentrate on changing, but with his quick elevation – he made just two starts at Reading after being promoted from Clearwater – these things remain a work in progress even with him being at the higher levels of the organization.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the Phillies have the opportunity to send Taveras back to Reading in favor of maybe Drew Anderson at some point over the last couple weeks of the season. It will also be interesting to see where in the organization Taveras begins in 2018.