All the numbers so far, starting most importantly with his fastball, point to Tim Alderson making strides and putting his disastrous 2010 season behind him.
"It doesn't really get any worse than it was last year," Alderson said.
His fastball has been 87-88 mph consistently and 89 on occasion through the first month. That may not be great for a 6-foot-6, 219-pound right-hander who used to throw in the low 90s, but it's an improvement from a year ago when he was primarily 85-87.
No one can pinpoint exactly why he lost so much velocity, but the big drop caused Alderson to get pounded with the Curve and also after getting demoted to Single-A Bradenton.
To help the 22-year-old former first-round draft pick try and regain his confidence, the Pirates moved the lifelong starter to the bullpen this season. Judging by the numbers, the move has paid off.
Alderson, who said he feels more aggressive on the mound and is attacking hitters instead of pitching defensively, leads the Curve pitching staff with a 1.17 ERA over eight appearances and 15 1/3 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also is solid at 15 to 6.
He's done well in two other key areas that paint a good picture of a pitcher's effectiveness.
Opposing hitters are batting just .204 off him, way down from the .313 figure he had with the Curve in 2010. He also has cut down significantly on baserunners allowed as his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is 1.11, compared to a whopping 1.55 last year.
Everything went terribly wrong for the young pitcher last season, so this is exactly the kind of start he needed - even if it is out of the bullpen.
"Hopefully he's growing confidence," Curve manager P.J. Forbes said. "That's the main thing.
"I'm happy for him. We want to get him back on the right track. It's happening. He just has to keep it going and hopefully blossoms from it."
That's the key, and simply looking at his current numbers isn't enough to think Alderson is out of the woods yet and on his way back to prospect status.
His fastball command has been good, but he still relies heavily on his offspeed stuff in key situations. His breaking stuff is good enough - as long as the fastball can at least keep hitters honest - to succeed at the Double-A level, especially if he's only facing guys once in relief.
"He's thrown some really good breaking balls, showed a couple of really good changeups," Forbes said. "And if he locates his fastball, you can pitch with three if you command them."
But can Alderson succeed in Triple-A or the big leagues with an 88-89 mph fastball? Or will he somehow have to get back to the 91-92 range to be the kind of pitcher who can justify a straight-up trade for former batting champion Freddy Sanchez?
Those are all great unknowns. It's also unclear when Alderson will return to the starting rotation.
"That's the main goal, but they haven't told me anything," he said.
Forbes predicted an Alderson move to the rotation is "down the line."
"I can't say that for sure; that's above me," the manager added. "I just know that when I get him in there [in relief], I'd like to get him multiple innings. He seems to thrive in that situation."
That's the whole point of Alderson being there right now. He's only 22 and has a great background of success, so there's no reason to give up on him yet.
"Being so young does give me a huge advantage because there's still room to grow," Alderson said. "No matter what the numbers were coming into this year, I feel like I'm more mature with everything I've learned in pro ball."
The Bucs did the right thing by switching Alderson to the bullpen for a change of scenery, and he has responded by performing well in relief.
His long-term value, though, is as a starter, and we won't know exactly how much he has improved until the Pirates decide to move him back into the Curve's rotation.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or email@example.com.