Brault has his eyes on rotation spot

By John Hartsock

jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

The trade of veteran Ivan Nova this offseason left a void in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting rotation.

Left-hander Steven Brault is hoping to fill it.

After spending most of last season in long relief, Brault enters spring training this year as a candidate for the fifth spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation, along with right-handers Nick Kingham, who made his debut last season, and Jordan Lyles, who was picked up by the Pirates in an offseason trade with the Colorado Rockies.

“I’ve been working really hard this offseason,” the 6-foot, 195-pound Brault said during a recent visit to Altoona as part of the Pirates Charities Winter Care-A-Van. “I know that there is a starting position open, and I know that it will be me, Kingham and Jordan Lyles in the running for it.

“I really want it, and I’m going to try to make it an easy decision for the Pirates that it should be me,” Brault, 26, said. “We’ll see what happens, but no matter what, I’m ready to fill a role that they need.”

Brault made five early-season starts last year, but generally struggled and spent most of the year in the bullpen. He finished the season with 82 strikeouts in 91.2 innings pitched, a 6-3 record, and a 4.61 earned run average.

“Last season, I kind of bounced around a lot, and it wasn’t very easy,” said Brault, a San Diego native. “It was kind of strange. It would be nice to have a cemented role, but we’ll see how it goes. I do like starting. I’ve been starting my whole life, and I love the routine of it.

“I love having the four days in between (starts) when I know that I can work out and run,” Brault said. “Being a reliever (makes) it a little hard to get into a routine. I’ve always liked being a starter, but if I’m not, I just want to be better than I was last year.”

Whether starting or coming out of the bullpen, Brault is blessed with a live arm.

“My strength as a pitcher is that I’m very hard (for the batter) to pick up,” Brault said. “I have a fast ball that is in the lower 90s, and when I throw it for strikes, it’s generally hard to hit. I have a higher spin rate, and when I can pair the fast ball with throwing off-speed pitches for strikes, everything works out really well.”

Brault — also a gifted singer who sang the National Anthem before a game at PNC Park last June — did struggle with his pitching command last year, walking 57 batters.

“My biggest weakness last year was my command,” Brault said. “My command was bad, so hitters were able to sit on pitches and kind of wait for a fast ball in a certain location. I would get behind in counts. So this year, my main focus is just getting ahead of hitters. Then it will be harder for them to hit the fast ball, and harder for them to hit the off-speed stuff.”

Third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who was among the Pirates joining Brault on the trip to Altoona, said that Brault possesses good composure on the mound. Kang spoke through his interpreter, Jeffrey Kim.

“He is a good pitcher who has a strong mental approach,” Kang said of Brault.

Brault is optimistic about this year’s Pirates team, which had a winning season (82-79) a year ago, and possesses a good front-line pitching trio comprised of right-handers Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, and Chris Archer.

“The Pirates pitching in 2019 is going to be very good,” Brault said. “We have a very young pitching staff that last year was good and this year is going to be better because it has more experience and more innings under its belt.

“I truly believe that we’re going to be one of the pitching staffs in the next few years that is going to be scary — a pitching staff that no team will want to face,” Brault said. “(As a team), I think we’re going to have a better record than last year. I think there’s a very good chance that we’ll be right there with the (National League Central) Division leaders, and I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for us to win the division.

“We are still young, but we are good,” Brault said. “I’m excited for this year.”

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