I was treated to the rare combination of free time at home meshing with a West coast ballgame last night, and I got to watch the season debut of the guy that demonstrated that Larry Beinfest got the better end of the Hanley Ramirez trade last year. Returning from a 2013 leadoff stint on the DL, Nathan Eovaldi took the hill last night for the first time this season. I’d like to offer a couple of observations on his outing.
His first pitch was a 98-MPH four-seam fastball that ran away from Gerardo Parra like a two-seamer. For the first four innings of the game, I don’t remember a single fastball dipping below 97. I’m not saying that none did, just that I don’t remember seeing one. His slider hovered around 91, with a sharp, late break. Both the fastball and the slider served him well for all but the second to last pitch of the first four innings. That second to last pitch was the first four-seam fastball to dip below 96 MPH, and Martin Prado took it fifteen rows deep in left-center field for a game-tying two runs.
The fifth and sixth innings saw a noticeable dip in fastball velocity, forcing Eovaldi to rely more and more on his curve ball and changeup. Unfortunately, the deuce isn’t his strongest pitch, and the number of pitches per out began accelerating. It’s not that he’s not throwing a weak curve, it’s that he seemed to be just missing the corners with it. It’s got a nice 12-6 break, but he has a tendency to throw it across his body a little bit, and that tendency makes it harder for him to nail the edges of the zone. There were a lot of near misses with both the curve and the changeup.
Mechanically, he’s rock solid. Smooth, consistent delivery like his is unusual in a high-velo starter, and Eovaldi’s delivery is like butter. For the most part, he has great economy of motion, with the exception of his glove lift. It’s a niggling little detail, but he raises his glove behind his head when he rocks back. I know I’m persnickety about this, but to me, any unnecessary movement opens the door to inconsistent mechanics. And it’s inconsistent movement that is the bane of tight command of the strike zone. What he’s very good at is closing his hip during his leg lift. It helps him delay his separation just long enough that he’s effective at hiding the pitch for as long as he can.
Until he has a few more games under his belt this season, I’d expect to see the cheddar fade off of his four-seam by the fifth inning or so, like it did last night. Three trips through the lineup is enough for big-league hitters to get a good read on a repertoire of two pitches. Until he can carry that 98+ heater deeper into his game, he needs to vary his look a little more. I’d like to see him work his curve and changeup a little more often during the early innings, so that when he has to go to his backup pitches, they’re dialed in and ready. Last night, it seemed like they were pitches he simply hadn’t thrown often enough to be devastating.
On defense, he has a lightning-quick move to first, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a pickoff or two this season. However, he doesn’t have much of a slide step from the stretch, so steal situations will offer opportunities for Rob Brantly and Jeff Mathis to hone their pickoff skills.
Overall, it was an excellent outing, and as strong a start off the DL as we could have asked for. Picking up Eovaldi in exchange for Hanley looks like a Marlins win from every angle. I’m looking forward to his next start.