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Tyler Glasnow has the stuff to start

And the Rays are going to let him.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — In joining the Tampa Bay Rays, newly acquired pitcher Tyler Glasnow, previously the Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect (who peaked at No. 14 on Baseball America’s top-100), has an entirely new adventure ahead of him.

In Pittsburgh, the coaching staff had apparently run out of ideas, relegating Glasnow to a relief role. The Rays intend to fully reverse that course and return him to the starting rotation.

Despite being similarly minded organizations in some ways, the Pirates and Rays vary in some subtle but key areas for their pitchers, including where in the zone a fastball is best located (the Rays go high where the Pirates go low), and the variety of fastball to emphasize (the Pirates seem to prefer two-seam action while the Rays have recently emphasized the four-seamer).

For the towering righty Glasnow, his development within the Pittsburgh system yielded mixed results — a near 60% groundball rate but a continued struggle with walks.

It’s for that reason Glasnow is excited to work with Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder. “His idea of how I should pitch matched up with mine,” Glasnow explained earlier this week. “Up in the zone and down in the zone.”

The only thing left to do is to get to work. “I think all the analytic stuff here, I’m pretty open-minded to it. We sat down, talked about that,” Glasnow explained. “I think I can get more strikes and we’ll sit down and get more in-depth with everything. Coming in I can already tell he knows a lot.”

The standout moment of Tyler Glasnow’s first appearance with the Rays was his strikeout of Albert Pujols. The still-green Glasnow started the veteran first baseman with an 80 mph curve that brushed him back off the plate, but then fell in for a called strike.

Glasnow then followed that pitch with two fastballs above the zone (firing at 96.5 and 98.0 mph on the gun) before completely fooling Pujols on a harder breaking ball below the zone. It was Glasnow the way he intends to be.

On first blush, I’ll be honest and say I thought these two breaking balls were the same pitch, just to different locations. Throughout the night as Glasnow alternated his breaking ball speeds, the movement was deceptively similar. Even with that strikeout pitch diving hard and hitting the dirt, I didn’t think of it as significantly different from the earlier strike.

After all, Books Baseball had not been differentiating between Glasnow’s breaking balls, and even though the MLBAM algorithm coded them separately, the movement between the two remained awfully close.

When I spoke with Glasnow on Sunday, though, I was able to ask whether his breaking balls were meaningfully different from one another (as in two separate pitches), or whether they were two speeds of the same pitch (as Chris Archer had featured in Tampa Bay). The answer was the former.

“They are different grips,” Glasnow explained, before breaking down that at bat. “It was curve, fastball up, fastball up, or higher to get him to swing, and then the slider started a little lower. It’s weird too because it definitely has the same movement.”

And it’s not a matter of throwing it harder or with more effort: “It’s just different.”

“They have the same movement. It’s just the change of velocities. Even talking to Snyder on that, looking at the analytical part of that, it’s basically the same movement pattern. It’s just a little sharper. I think too with the slider, as far as [Batting] Average Against, it’s a lot better when it’s 85-88. So I guess more so for wipe-out pitches and stuff, the slider’s probably the go-to, and the curveball’s more for some strikes to steal early.”

There were no 88 mph sliders on Wednesday, but Glasnow did get the pitch up to 87. It’s easy to watch a number like this go by without stopping to consider the quality, but a high-80s breaking ball with movement that gets mistaken for a curve is an extremely unusual and valuable pitch, and a reminder that there is no questioning the quality of Glasnow’s stuff, whether he remains a starter or not.

Glasnow did not show a changeup in his first appearance for the Rays, and he confirmed that was an intentional strategy. With only one time through the order scheduled as the Rays seek to stretch him back out into a starting role, Glasnow felt he had what it took to get guys out without needing to debut his fourth pitch just yet.

“I’ll start working those in later,” Glasnow told me. “I was in the ‘pen, so I wouldn’t be really throwing them, when I was in Pittsburgh and during throwing program. I would throw them every day, but I think going one time through the lineup, I really didn’t need it.”

“I’ll bring it back though,” Glasanow promised.

I hadn’t seen it, so I asked Glasnow what we could expect from the change. It was then Glasnow revealed his change is in fact a Vulcan, explaining that more traditional changeup grips have elluded him due to the size of his hands.

“It’s a two-seam, kind of like this,” Glasnow explained while providing the Vulcan salute with his palm facing the ground, emphasizing the part of his fingers above the palm.

Unaccustomed to having the baseball buried in his palm, it’s reasonable that Glasnow would search for a grip that would keep the stitching at his fingertips. Change ups and variants like the circle-change thrown by Ryan Yarbrough, among other Rays, just won’t work; he’s tried.

“The circle’s been tough, my hands are so big, so [with the Vulcan] I just kind of get it out.” Here, he emphasized the throwing motion, with an invisible baseball rolling off the tips of his middle and ring fingers.

With time, having such large hands may make Glasnow a candidate for the split-change thrown by Jake Faria, should the Rays want to play with his changeup grip further. Or perhaps Snyder and bullen coach Stan Boroski can continue working on the Vulcan with Glasnow to get the perfect split-change pronation and make the rare pitch type dance the way it should, as when Joe Nelson (credited with creating the pitch) showed a decade ago when he graced the mound with Tampa Bay.

Glasnow said he and Snyder, who famously stands an equal height at 6’8”, will continue “brainstorming together” to find the right answers for his arsenal, including considerations on whether he should continue pitching exclusively from the stretch, as noted by Thomas Bassinger in the Tampa Bay Times.

The adjustment to pitching from the stretch with no one on base had everything to do with Glasnow’s height and with generating power for his big fastball by, “just kind of evening my weight out and getting back into my back leg.”

“I think the biggest thing with changing it was to see if it would fatigue my arm any more or anything, but it doesn’t. It ends up feeling better the day after because I can repeat my delivery a little better.”

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

With the delivery unlikely to change in the short term, the emphasis will be simply on starting and performing his best. “We’ll get my pitch count up,” Glasnow said, “and every start plan accordingly to be able to go longer in games.”

Tyler Glasnow makes his second start with the Rays this evening against Alex Cobb (who recently regained his famous split-change) and the Baltimore Orioles. Work efficiently, and maybe he’ll get to face a second time through the order.

Make it to the second time through, and then the fun begins.