Taylor Jordan learning well on the fly

brushback_harperIn the month that Taylor Jordan has been in the majors leagues, his numbers have been partially deceiving. He has hasn’t won a game in five starts. He has an 0-3 record. He has given up 36 hits in 29 1/3 innings. He has allowed 16 runs, but only 12 of them have been earned. He has a 3.68 ERA and has pitched better than many of his numbers would suggest.

The 24-year-old rookie, who spent only nine games at Class AA Harrisburg and bypassed Class AAA Syracuse, has provided the Nationals with exactly what they’ve needed and improved with every start. He was asked to fill in while others were hurt and has acquitted himself well.

“He’s learning as he goes,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “He’s getting some on-the-job training and he’s got good stuff. Good looking pitcher.”

What has allowed Jordan to pitch in the majors despite a lack of experience is that he relies on hard sinkers in the low-to-mid 90s that break down and toward a right-handed hitter, a combination of movement and velocity that makes batters pound it into the ground. He has a 61.8 percent groundball percentage, which would be the highest rate in the majors if he qualified. But the sinker also misses few bats; Jordan had struck out 4.3 batters per nine innings.

The approach works because Jordan peppers the strike zone and rarely issues walks. But it also means he lives at the mercy of his defense and the whims of the ball in play. On Tuesday, he was betrayed by his defense in the second inning. In past starts that, too, at times, has been the case. He tossed 7 2/3 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates and coughed up five runs, four of them earned.

“Also a little bit of inexperience because he’s, his only time he’s got hurt is when he’s been up two strikes on the hitter and then he makes a pretty foul pitch,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “But that was a stellar performance (Tuesday). Just outstanding.”

Jordan has slowly improved with each outing by also throwing his secondary pitches better for strikes. He has learned to throw his fastball-change-up combination less and mix in more of his slider. On Tuesday, he threw 30 sliders of 99 pitches, the highest percentage of his five starts, and it allowed him to pitch the deepest he has into a start. With each start, he has slowly used the slider more, jumping from six percent in his first start to 30 percent on Tuesday.

“His slider has gotten a lot better,” Johnson said. “His slider has got a good bite on it, and he’s locating it well. Still got a great change-up, fastball.”

Jordan has also learned to improve his mental approach. He has focused less on the name of the batter he is facing. He has also learned that most pitches left up in the zone against major league hitters will get clobbered more than it would in the minors.

“I’m starting not to really care up who is up to bat,” he said. “I still have to make my pitches whether or not. Just like the pitcher today. He got a hit off me, got several hits off me actually. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable up there.”

At some point, Jordan, who is in his first full season since 2011 will hit his innings limit of which the Nationals have “general parameters,” according to General Manager Mike Rizzo.

The Nationals could be facing a longer stretch without Ross Detwiler, as he travels to Los Angeles to receive a second opinion from a back specialist. Here’s one potential contingency: If Detwiler’s prognosis is bleak, the Nationals could slide Ross Ohlendorf into the starting rotation. And, to keep Jordan from hitting his innings limit so soon, they could hold him to three to five innings per start in the minor leagues and he could serve as insurance should any injuries happen to any major league starters.

“I know what the parameters are and where he’s at,” Rizzo said on Saturday. “When he gets to that area, then we’ll shut him down, like we’ve done with everybody else.”

The Nationals saw Jordan’s accelerated progress in spring training. They liked the way he was throwing and rehabbing from surgery. They plucked him from minor league spring training to start for the big league side in a split squad game against the St. Louis Cardinals. At Class A Potomac, he impressed and was promoted. He continued to grow at Harrisburg, enough to merit jumping straight to the majors when the Nationals were desperate for starting arms.

“He’s thrown the ball great,” Rizzo said. “There’s no doubt about it. I like his stuff. I like his demeanor. He commands three pitches and he’s got good life to all three pitches. He’s a real major league starting pitcher.”

FROM THE POST

The Nationals fall to the Pirates, 5-1, and drop their five straight game, writes Adam Kilgore.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

Ryan Zimmerman on Ryan Braun’s suspension: ‘If they do it to themselves, you really don’t feel sorry for them’

New hitting coach Rick Schu joins the Nationals

Ross Detwiler visiting back surgeon for second opinion

Jayson Werth’s power surge

Can a hitting coach change make a difference?

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Syracuse 6, Louisville 5: On rehab, Ryan Mattheus tossed two scoreless innings of relief on 21 pitches. He walked one and struck out one. Tanner Roark started and allowed one run over six innings. Corey Brown hit a three-run shot of former National Zach Duke. Roark and Tyler Moore each collected two hits.

Harrisburg 6, New Hampshire 5: The Senators scored two in the top of the ninth. Nate Karns struck out 10 and allowed four runs, three earned, over six innings. Matt Swynenberg, Matt Grace and Aaron Barrett each tossed scoreless innings. Barrett earned his 20th save. Rick Hague went 2 for 4 with three RBI and Jimmy Van Ostrand collected three hits.

Potomac 3, Salem 0: Brian Rauh allowed three hits over five innings, and David Fischer and Robert Benincasa combined to allow no more hits or runs. Adrian Sanchez collected two hits and Francisco Soriano went 1 for 2 with two walks.

Greensboro 3, Hagerstown 2: Nick Lee allowed one run and struck out six over six innings. Justin Thomas tossed a scoreless inning and Bryan Harper allowed one run. Brandon Miller went 1 for 1 with tree walks.

Williamsport 3, Auburn 2: Jake Johansen allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits and walked only one. Issac Ballou finished 3 for 5 with two RBI, including a solo shot back to the stadium.

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