In all that’s gone awry this season, and in particular of late, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of a 24-year-old rookie who pitched only nine games above Class A baseball until a month ago. Taylor Jordan’s meteoric rise through Washington’s minor league system vaulted him to the majors at a time when the Nationals needed a starting pitcher. And since his call-up on June 29, Jordan has punched up a 3.31 ERA over six starts and helped bring a small measure of stability to the back end of the Nationals rotation.
On Sunday, after the best start of his young career, Jordan finally earned his first major league win. He allowed only one run on five hits over six innings on only 87 pitches. He is a power sinkerballer — if he qualified he would have the second-highest groundball rate (57.6 percent) in the majors. But against the New York Mets, he induced 12 flyouts compared to only four groundballs, and struck out a career-high seven batters.
“I don’t think he was as sharp as his last time out,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “But he threw awful good. Made pitches when he had to. And his slider keeps getting better.”
Jordan has relied more on his slider in recent starts, a pitch he uses to neutralize right-handed batters. On Sunday, it dropped like a dead weight through the strike zone. His improvement in execution and increased usage of the pitch — coupled with his power sinking fastball and plus change-up against left-handers — has worked well for him.
He threw a slider 21.8 percent of the time on Sunday, 19 of 87 pitches, and the Mets whiffed at it five times. He threw it 30.3 percent of the time in his previous start. In his major league debut, against the Mets, he threw it only six percent of the time, and 19.1 percent in his second start. Jordan has used it more and noticed that his slider has moved more sharply of late.
“I’ve been working on my slider a lot and it’s finally coming around,” he said. “Just trying to perfect that pitch right now.”
The Mets were the first team Jordan faced for a second time, a chance for him to show how his stuff would continue to work in the majors. He saw facing the same opponent as a disadvantage, but he certainly pitched better this time against the Mets. The Nationals believe he has learned well on the fly, and he showed how again on Sunday. His rise and improvement have even catapulted him into consideration for a starting rotation spot next season, too.
“I’m still learning, trying to figure out what to do in what situation, what count, who’s up, who’s on deck, I’m still learning all that stuff,” Jordan said.
At some point, perhaps within the next month, Jordan will be shut down in his first full season back from 2011 Tommy John surgery. He has about 14 to 24 innings left, based on what Johnson said earlier, which could be another two or three more starts. In his brief time with the Nationals so far, he has provided valuable and solid innings during a push for the playoffs.
He kept asking himself if he was helping the team if he couldn’t pitch them to a win. Well, he had pitched well enough on several occasions to earn one but was betrayed by the defense and offense. Finally, on Sunday, he could walk off the field with his teammates victorious.
“It’s amazing to have my first win, finally,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to do to get a win and I got one.”