For much of the last two-plus weeks, Taylor Jordan’s actual baseball responsibilities have been pretty limited.
Since being shut down for the season, partially due to a back strain that landed him on the disabled list and mostly due to Jordan reaching his team-imposed innings limit, the rookie right-hander has played catch every day, and, well, that’s about it.
There isn’t a heck of a lot pitchers can do when they’re on the DL, and there’s even less pitchers can do when they’re on the DL and know they won’t be pitching in games again the rest of the year.
So for the last couple of weeks, Jordan found a way to keep himself occupied in the minutes leading up to each game. Every day during the Nats’ latest homestand, Jordan trotted out behind home plate at 6:52 p.m. (or 7:52 p.m. last night, due to the late start time) and caught the ceremonial first pitch. It’s a job usually reserved for the latest rookie to be called up, or is something handled by a rotation of young players not in that day’s starting lineup. But Jordan happily took the job on himself for every home game of late.
“I just feel like doing it. I’ve got nothing else to do,” Jordan said with a smile yesterday. “Might as well frickin’ do it. I don’t mind it. It’s kind of like my little job. It kind of makes me feel like I’m doing something.”
Yesterday actually marked the last time this season that Jordan will catch the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park, as he’ll now head down to Viera, Fla., this week in order to start a throwing program away from the Nats.
Even after learning he’d been shut down in Atlanta while on the last road trip, Jordan traveled with the Nationals to Chicago and Kansas City on the other legs of their trip. Now, with the Nats carrying more players due to roster expansion and there not really being a need for Jordan on the road, he’s been told he’ll go down to the Nats’ minor league facility for the rest of the season and start throwing three times a week - every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
It wraps up a successful tenure with the Nats this season. After dominating at two levels of the minors this season, Jordan impressed the Nats brass by posting a 3.66 ERA in nine big league starts, striking out 29, walking 11 and allowing just three home runs over 51 2/3 innings.
Both manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo have said that Jordan did enough this season to be a legitimate candidate for a rotation spot next year. And so while he was around the Nats the last couple of weeks, even after his shutdown, Jordan made an effort to try and soak up all the big league knowledge that he could.
“I’m still asking the same questions, still watching the game,” Jordan said. “Trying to think of what their pitcher’s doing next. If he’s going to come inside right here. Like I noticed (Saturday), their pitcher (Zack Wheeler), he threw (Adam) LaRoche three changeups in a row and they were up by nine runs in like the eighth inning. I was talking to Ross (Detwiler) about, ‘What was the point in throwing three changeups in a row to LaRoche, you’re up by nine runs?’ And they were all for balls. Go after him, you’ve got a nine-run cushion. Eighth inning. If something real bad happens, then start pitching like that.”
It’s those type of pitch sequences that Jordan spent a lot of his time focusing on lately. Teammates would give Jordan specific game situations - Ryan Howard’s on second with one out late in a tie game - and ask Jordan how he was going to attack the next hitter.
As a minor leaguer, Jordan mostly just went out and threw, letting his stuff do the work. He learned that at the big league level, there’s a lot more thinking that goes into things, both in terms of pitch selection and overall strategy based on the specific circumstances at that point in the game.
“There’s a lot of percentages in this game,” Jordan said. “The percentage of a hitter getting a hit 1-0 as opposed to 0-1 is a lot better. So I kind of want to learn what pitches to throw in what counts to minimize the percent of them getting on base. What’s a smart pitch and what’s not a smart pitch, how to recognize a swing and see what they’re trying to do that at-bat.
“If we’re up by one run (and) there’s a guy on second base or something, how to pitch that guy. What his approach is. He might be trying to flick the ball the other way through the four-hole to try and score that guy. So if that’s the case, (you) probably don’t want to throw away too much. You kind of want to establish in a little bit. Stuff like that.”
Jordan will now head down to Viera, where he’ll continue to work through some back discomfort (the back tightened up on him while throwing a couple of days ago, Jordan said, and overall soreness from throwing 142 innings this season, by far the most of his career.
But he’ll do so with a wealth of information that he didn’t possess a few months ago, and a knowledge that he’ll be able to compete for a full-time rotation spot in the big leagues next spring.