Taylor Jordan’s performance Wednesday night against the Astros may not have been emphatic, but it could only have helped his chances in the competition for the fifth spot in the Nationals rotation. He settled down after an odd, rocky first inning and allowed one run on three hits over five innings, walking one and striking out five.
Following Tanner Roark’s excellent minor league start Tuesday, Jordan answered with a strong start. After the first inning, Jordan allowed only one ball out of the infield, a bloop double to left from Marwin Gonzalez. His sinker made bats sound hollow. He induced eight groundballs, including a double play that erased an error by first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty had instructed Jordan to pitch with his fastball more, and Jordan listened. He mixed in a few first-pitch sliders, but he mostly stuck to the turbo-sinker that deadens bats and frightens worms.
“I was definitely focusing on my fastball command today more than my offspeed, because that’s just the type of pitcher I am,” Jordan said. “I’m not a strikeout machine. I had some good movement on my fastball today, so that was nice to see.”
Jordan admitted this has been a “stressful” spring training for him. Along with competing for a job, Jordan arrived with uncertainty about how his ankle would respond after he broke it late last fall, a freak injury that required surgery. Jordan needs special stretching before starts, but otherwise he has felt no ill effects.
“I really can’t think about” the competition, Jordan said. “Yesterday was a nice day to collect myself and just have a great day and just not stress. That’s exactly what I did.”
Jordan’s sinking fastball, according to one scout’s radar gun, hummed between 89 and 91 miles per hour, a tick below his velocity during last season, when Jordan frequently hit 94. The scout said Jordan’s change-up has improved greatly, and his slider, while also improving, can still be inconsistent.
Despite his success in the majors last year, Jordan, 25, has only thrown about 140 innings at low Class A Hagerstown. In the first inning, Jordan’s inexperience showed.
Jordan made Jose Altuve swing and miss twice, which is no small feat and a testament to the quality of his stuff. But Altuve reached on an infield single. As Jordan stood in the stretch, Altuve noticed him paying him no attention. Altuve bolted. Jordan stepped off, spun and fired a throw to Ian Desmond’s right shin. The ball squirted into center field. Alutve took third base, and scored on a groundout.
Jordan had more time than he realized, which led to the rushed throw. “I knew that he was really fast,” Jordan said. “It seemed with the yelling [from teammates] that it was a sense of urgency. So I did it as fast as I could. I didn’t think I had that much time.”
The Astros never seriously threatened again. Gonzalez’s bloop fell between Bryce Harper and Desmond, but no other Astros reached base against him in his last four innings.
“It’s going to happen sometimes during the season where you meet some adversity,” Williams said. “But he handled it good.”
As Jordan cruised, his opposite number was perfect. Jarred Cosart retired all 15 hitters he faced over five innings, striking out nine as he mowed down the Nationals’ regular lineup.
Ross Detwiler relieved Jordan and pitched one inning, first appearance since the Nationals moved him to the bullpen. “He could be dominant there,” the scout said. “He could be a No. 3 for a lot of teams.” Detwiler entered with three left-handed hitters due up, which pleased Williams. Detwiler issued one walk but retired the other three batters he faced, striking out Jason Castro.
“I saw aggression,” Williams said. “That’s what I like.”
The Nationals have 11 more days to make Detwiler’s transition to the relief. Next, Williams wants to see Detwiler enter in the middle of an inning and then come back to pitch the next inning.
Closer Rafael Soriano also received an inning of work. He came to spring intent on recapturing his slider and increasing his velocity. The slider was “pretty good ,” the scout said. His velocity sat at 89-91 mph, but Williams saw him throwing sinkers and splitters, not four-seamers. Soriano still has time to tack a few miles per hour on to his fastball, anyway.
“He looked good to me,” Williams said.