Pittsburgh Pirates Rehab Update: Steven Brault Pitches 4 Perfect Innings

Following another strong rehab start at Triple-A lefty Steven Brault appears to be close to returning the Pittsburgh Pirates

Making his second rehab start for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, Steven Brault fired 4 perfect innings while striking out 6 on Friday night. This follows up a solid 3 inning outing the week before, and Brault looks like he may be ready for a return trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates after throwing 39 of 58 pitches for strikes and notching a good strikeout number vs the Tigers Triple-A team.

With a career 4.68 ERA that almost identically matches his 4.67 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) Brault hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency for the Pittsburgh Pirates since he made the ballclub in 2016 but has still been a versatile piece.

Brault has covered 315 innings for the Pirates over the past 5 years, including a mix of starts (45), relief appearances (55), games finished (9) and even picked up 1 save. While the career numbers leave something to desired Brault did have a solid 2020 even if it was only covering 42 innings. Let’s look at what made it successful.

Brault has never been a hard thrower with his fastball velocity topping out around 92.1 mph last season – which was a 1.7 mph increase from 2019. The increase In his FB velocity also led to him adding a little more to his secondary pitchers, including a almost 1 mph jump (84.3mph to 85mph) in his changeup. In addition the added speed gave him a big time improvement on his Spin rate on all his pitches. His Fastball jumped from 2068 RPMs in 2019 to 2179 last year and his changeup was also up a similar amount – from 1582 RPMs to 1655 RPMs.

Perhaps this velocity change caught hitters off guard as they struggled to make consistent versus him – as Brault induced a career low amount of hard contact (32.7%) to help him generate ground balls 50.4% of the time. Batters hit .149 and .151 vs his fastball and changeup respectfully – pitches he used about 60% of the time last year. This all led to a tidy 3.38 ERA/3.92 fip.

What I like most about his 2020 season is that Brault was outstanding in his final two starts hurling 16 innings and allowing just 1 ER on 4 hits while striking out 14 and generating 18 ground balls – against 2 NL Central rivals that both made the postseason (Cardinals and Cubs). On September 17th he threw what was ranked as the 11th Best Game Score for a Starting Pitcher in 2020 throwing a complete game against the Cardinals allowing 1 ER on 2 hits while striking out 8.

Brault can also swing the bat exceptionally well for a pitcher and while he didn’t pickup any at bats last year due to the NL using a DH he is a career .265 hitter (22-83) with 3 doubles and a home run – and seems to always put the ball in play as his 14% strikeout  rate would be awesome for any regular batter.

So, what is a 2021 outlook like for Brault? I would imagine once he gets a few more rehab starts under his belt he will book his return trip to the Pittsburgh Pirates and will be inserted back into the starting rotation.

The trade deadline could play a part in determining his second half role as, the Pirates are looking likely to Trade Tyler Anderson, opening a potential spot. The real key will be how the Pirates want to manage the young pitchers. If The Pirates feel some of their Triple-A arms aren’t ready for the bigs or they pitch cap certain guys (a realer possibility considering there was no 2020 minor league season) Brault could be due to hold down a spot in the starting rotation for the seasons final two months.