When scouting then-Dodgers prospect Nathan Eovaldi, it was the starter's consistent fastball and emerging breaking ball that impressed Miami's executives. After acquiring Eovaldi in the Hanley Ramirez-Randy Choate transaction, the Marlins' pitching instructors asked the 24-year old to improve his offspeed pitches. And he is looking to do just that this spring.
Once camp breaks, pending any health issues, Eovaldi is expected to be Miami's number two starting pitcher only behind reigning NL Rookie of The Year Jose Fernandez. Eovaldi, who according to FanGraphs has one of baseball's best fastballs that averaged 96.2 mph last season, has taken a "fastball first" approach to begin his career.
70.6 percent of Eovaldi's 2013 pitches were fastballs, and with the help of Miami pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, Eovaldi is looking to put his slider, curveball, and changeup to better use.
"You have to be smart with it," Eovaldi said in an interview with MLB.com. "I'm a fastball pitcher. I'm going to establish that first-pitch strike with my fastball, regardless. I've still got to be able to on, 0-1, 0-2, be able to put them away with offspeed pitches."
Eovaldi last season went 4-6 with an ERA of 3.39. In 18 starts, he struck out 78 while walking 40, indicating the inconsistencies of his breaking ball. Eovaldi's 43.8 ground ball percentage suggests that he has adequate control of the fastball. But after just 18.6 percent of his 2013 pitches were sliders, and 9.1 percent were curveballs, Eovaldi is hoping to do a better job of mixing up his pitches.
"He's got a great arm, a great fastball," manager Mike Redmond said. "We've all seen that. We saw some games where he was dominant, and some games where his fastball was up a little bit, and he got hit around a little bit. The challenge for him is really going to be his secondary pitches. That's the key."
Eovaldi made his spring debut on Saturday in a 5-4 win over the Cardinals. While command has been a minor issue in the past, Eovaldi threw 35 pitches against St. Louis, with 27 of them being in the strike zone. After the game, he estimated that around 10 percent of his pitches were offspeed, according to MLB.com. His fastball topped out at 97 mph.
"I have four pitches, and I barely threw my changeup last year," Eovaldi said. "I want to get that more in the mix. Not just fastball-slider. I want to throw my curveball more this year. I felt like that second half was a lot better when I threw my curveball more."
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