In an Astros bullpen that has contained as many as 10 rookies, Blake Taylor had gained steam as the most trusted of them all.
The 25-year-old lefthander was scoreless through his first 7.1 major league innings and totaled nine strikeouts against the 26 batters he faced, transforming from a matchup reliever to a high-leverage option.
After just two prior outings, Astros manager Dusty Baker trusted Taylor to face Cody Bellinger in the sixth inning of a tie game on July 29. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound lefthander induced a harmless pop fly and proceeded through 2.1 scoreless innings.
For Taylor’s fourth outing, he received the righthanded-hitting Anthony Rendon in the sixth inning of a one-run game. Taylor struck him out looking, continuing his torrid start.
The Astros acquired Taylor from the Mets in December’s Jake Marisnick trade. A converted starter and 2013 second-round pick from Dana Hills High in Dana Point, Calif., Taylor arrived in Houston with an open mind, well aware of the organization’s reputation for analytical pitching development. The team summoned him in for a meeting on the third day of spring training.
“I learned more about myself in that 15 minutes than I ever had in the minor leagues,” Taylor said. “We built a plan based off of that on how to work on my weaknesses, like slider depth and slider consistency and throwing strikes on the arm side.”
Taylor throws a four-seam fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a putaway slider. His four-seamer induces weak rollovers and contact with its considerable hop and backspin—Taylor called it a “backspin cutter” in spring training.
Unsurprisingly, the Astros asked him to elevate it more and live up and in to righthanded hitters. Taylor has tinkered with a seldom-used changeup to make his arsenal complete.
Taylor fills a void the Astros have long ignored. Lefthanded pitchers are nearly absent in their organization. Taylor is one of just four southpaws on the 40-man roster. Baker said upon his arrival he needed a lefthander in the bullpen. Taylor’s filled that role this year, and may for many more to come.
— Top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was shut down from throwing after experiencing “arm discomfort” at the team’s alternate training site at Corpus Christi. General manager James Click said the team is “optimistic and hopeful” the injury is minor.
— Jojanse Torres, a hard-throwing Dominican righthander, impressed during summer camp workouts. He hit 98 mph on the Minute Maid Park radar gun while facing the major league team in a live batting practice. Torres was at the team’s alternate training site.