Garrison Transitioning To New Role

TRENTON, NJ - For the first time in Taylor Garrison’s minor league career, he entered a season with a clear role; as a Thunder starting pitcher. And through two starts, he owns a minuscule 1.93 ERA.

However, the 24-year-old, who owns a career 2.34 ERA, was originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 MLB draft to be a reliever. In 2014, he served as a swingman with the Tampa Yankees, starting five of the 10 games he appeared in, before being promoted to Trenton, where he pitched in 24 games, coming out of the bullpen in all but one outing.

The organization felt it would be best for the 5-foot-11 right-hander to make the conversion to a starter, manager Al Pedrique said, because his fastball sits around 88-92 miles per hour and tops out at 93, which doesn’t look like a prototypical late-inning reliever.

"I think starting will give him a chance to prepare himself better. I think he will get stronger, where he can go five, six innings," Pedrique said. "The key for him is earlier in the game, that’s when he gets in trouble. We thought with his fastball, we didn’t feel like he could be a closing-type of pitcher, so as a starter, we thought that he would have a better chance to move up faster."

Pitching coach José Rosado understands that Garrison will not be able to blow hitters away with a mid-90s fastball, but points to Atlanta Braves’ retired ace as one of MLB’s best, who didn’t have to throw at a high-velocity to put batters away.

"One of the best pitchers ever is Greg Maddux; he didn’t have any power fastball to go by hitters. One thing we’ve been working on is to learn how to read swings, and he’s a smart kid, I think it’s going to be beneficial for him to read swings and be able to pitch with that."

Going into the offseason knowing he would be a part of the Thunder rotation, Garrison was able to focus on increasing his physical endurance to prepare for a starting pitcher’s workload.

"I came into Tampa [the minor league complex] around October, started my throwing program around December and stayed on top of my arm care and workout routine, and made sure that I was ready to go this time of year," Garrison said. "I just changed my routine a little bit, doing a little bit more stuff in the weight room, more stuff running-wise and just conditioning my arm in a smart way."

The early results have been encouraging for Garrison, as he holds a 1.93 ERA through two starts. However, his K:BB currently sits at 5:3, and he’s been hittable, allowing 12 hits in just 9 and 1/3 innings.

In his first start, Garrison was unable to make it out of the fifth inning, but he did limit the damage to two runs in 4 and 1/3 innings. His next time toeing the rubber, Garrison was in control, holding the Portland Sea Dogs to no runs over five innings, recording two strikeouts, and coming away with his first victory of the season.

The transition to the rotation has been smooth thus far because of the four-pitch repertoire — fastball, changeup, curveball, slider — he already had as a relief pitcher, Garrison said. However, his hunger to impress and continue to help the organization has not been satiated after just two solid starts.

"My command can be a little better," he admitted. "Of course, you never want to be satisfied with what you’re doing, but I’m happy with the results thus far, and I’m just ready to go out there and make good pitches. I’ve got a great defense behind me, and I’ve got a great offense behind me as well, so I don’t really have to worry about too much."

Despite some tough innings, Garrison has been able to wiggle his way out of trouble, but in order to be stronger with his command, he will have to continue to keep hitters off of his fastball by continuing to throw his hard slider, which reaches 87 miles per hour, as well as his other offspeed offerings.

"He’s going to have to be effective with his second pitch, and the third pitch, and mix up his changeup," Pedrique said. "When you’re not an overpowering type of pitcher, you depend a lot on your command — keeping the ball down, using both sides of the plate and also throw some breaking balls in fastball counts."

Even with the desire to make it to the big leagues, Garrison wants to continue to take it slow and try not to be preoccupied with impressing scouts with his numbers.

"I’m focused on staying one pitch at a time," he said. "Some people get caught up in being 24 [years old], going on 25, in Double-A, and trying to be in the big leagues sooner rather than later, but I’m trying not to focus on that. If I do what I can, make pitches and quality pitches and get good results, then those things will work out themselves."

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