Two Augusta GreenJackets pitchers take step forward in development

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Two Augusta GreenJackets pitchers took steps forward in their development during a long road trip.

Left-handed starter Christian Jones took a no-hitter into the eighth inning Sunday, while reliever Ray Black lit up radar guns the night before. Both outings were important for their prospect status.

Jones, drafted in the 18th round in 2013 out of Oregon, threw seven hitless innings against the Hickory Crawdads before allowing three hits in the eighth. He eventually gave up three runs in the inning, but only one was earned after a costly error.

Jones entered the season as a sleeper coming off Tommy John surgery in college, and he was still working to gain a feel for his pitches in spring camp. He has rebounded well in Augusta, recording a 3.58 ERA with 31 strikeouts to only three unintentional walks in 27²/³ innings.

A report by MiLB.com said Jones began throwing a two-seam fastball this past week, and Sunday was the first time he used it in a game. As a left-hander with a good changeup, throwing an effective two-seamer can help keep hitters off the four-seam fastball. Jones’ four-seamer has good tailing action, but he has to spot it well to avoid getting hit hard.

A two-seamer from the left side can be effective by emulating a changeup but with more velocity, leading to weak contact when hitters don’t recognize the difference. Adding an effective pitch could boost Jones’ prospect status.

Black was drafted in 2011 but didn’t throw a professional pitch until this year because of labrum surgery. After one appearance in Augusta, he again went on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

Black returned May 3 and shut down Greenville for an inning, throwing 94-97 with a strong slider. The right-hander has gotten even stronger since, throwing 97-100 and touching 101 on Saturday, according to FanGraphs prospect writer Nathaniel Stoltz.

Stoltz said Black was “absolutely filthy” against Hickory, pairing the fastball with a slider that reached 89 and froze a batter for a strikeout.

If Black’s shoulder can stay healthy, he has late-innings potential down the road for the San Francisco Giants. He’s perhaps the hardest thrower in the minor leagues.

REGAINING FEEL: The GreenJackets have placed reliever Ray Montero on the disabled list with a sore right rotator cuff. Right-hander Nick Vander Tuig was activated in response.

Vander Tuig’s season has been sidetracked to this point by a right oblique injury, and subsequent struggles in regaining a feel for his pitches. The 2013 sixth-rounder out of UCLA has allowed five runs in 1²/³ innings since returning.

Vander Tuig profiles as a command pitcher, relying on a fastball around 90 mph and a deceptive changeup. The changeup has been firm to this point, resulting in a loss of deception and advantage.

With several months left in the season, he has time to gain a feel for his pitches.

With the rotation currently set, it will likely come out of the bullpen until something changes.


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