When Dustin Evans was drafted by the Braves last month, he wondered if he would have a chance this summer to pitch at home. It was a natural thing to think about since his home, Taylorsville, Georgia, is only 22 miles south of Rome, the home of the Braves' Low-A affiliate.
That opportunity knocked last week, as Evans made his Rome Braves' debut and pitched six scoreless innings. He allowed only three hits and got a standing ovation from the crowd.
"Well it's pretty much my home park," Evans said. "My whole family and all my friends were there, and it turns out I had a pretty decent game. It was special. I went there and just pitched like I can pitch. I tried not to get nervous, but I was a little nervous there. I settled down and threw well."
The dream game continued a whirlwind five weeks for the six-foot-four, 200-pound right-hander. He was drafted by the Braves, his home state team, in the second round out of Georgia Southern last month. Evans signed and then pitched two games in Danville, posting a 1-1 record, a 1.69 ERA, 2 runs and 5 hits allowed in 10.2 innings, 4 walks, and 10 strikeouts.
And then Evans was promoted to Rome, where 30 to 40 of his family members watched him pitch his first game in A ball last week. Now that the thrill of his debut is over, Evans is continuing his development as a professional pitcher, which has already seen a drastic alteration in his repertoire.
"They've changed me up a lot since college, and so far it's worked," Evans said. "They've just moved my hands up a little bit and taught me a curveball. They're still working on my changeup. So I'm going to stick to it."
Evans may be one of the few young kids that never really learned how to throw a curveball. He had always thrown fastballs and changeups until his junior year in high school when someone taught him how to throw a slider. Over time, the slider became a plus pitch for him, and it was one of the reasons he was successful in college. But the Braves usually don't allow their young pitchers to throw sliders in the low minors, and with Evans already having the slider as a plus pitch, they prefer him to now learn the curve ball to increase his number of pitches.
"I've never thrown a curve before in my life," Evans admitted. "I just picked it up last week. I've just always thrown a slider."
But with his fastball ranging from 91-96 mph, the Braves want Evans to refine his breaking pitches, and adding a curve will only compliment his change. He'll probably continue throwing the slider on the side, but the Braves believe it's such a good pitch that he won't lose the feel for it. So for now, Evans' assignment is to master the curveball.
"Yeah, no more sliders," he said with a smile. "I'm just going to work hard and do all I can. The rest of this season I just want to pitch well and cut down on my walks."
It's a classic case of development. The Braves know that as a college pitcher, Evans is a little more refined than the high school pitchers they drafted who are stuck in the Gulf Coast League. But even with a blazing fastball and a plus slider, the organization feels he can become even better with another solid pitch.
"It's going well," Evans said. "I'm enjoying it."
So far, the Braves are too.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dustin Evans loved pitching at home
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