Unfortunately it took two young pitchers going to the DL, and a Yu Darvish melt down to close out a miserable series in Oakland, but Thursday we finally got to see Tanner Scheppers in the Major Leagues.
For those only really aware of prospects when they debut, Scheppers was taken 44th overall, in the supplemental round, by the Rangers in 2009, in a pick that was considered something of a coup at the time. He debuted on Baseball America's prospect rankings as the 42nd overall prospect in 2010, and, despite health concerns, was considered to have a good shot at being an impact starter or elite reliever. Injuries and poor performance caused his stock to drop rapidly over the past two years, but a strong start in the Round Rock bullpen earned him the promotion to the big club.
So far, so good, for the most part.
Scheppers showed excellent fastball command in his debut. Consistently sitting around 95 miles per hour (topping out at 96.5), he kept his pitch along the perimeter of the zone. Rarely did he miss with his heater, keeping it along the perimeter of the zone, only touching center square or missing the zone a few times each. All told, he had a 70% rate of strikes on the pitch.
His off-speed repertoire, meanwhile, never missed the zone once. He threw one change up at 85 mph, and also flashed his 80 mph power curve, then mixed in three hard sliders at around 82 mph.
His debut against Josh Reddick came with runners on first and second and only one out, and he worked repeated fastballs away against the lefty, keeping along the edge of the typically-generous LHH strikezone. His first two pitches missed very before he locked in, inducing four reaching foul balls before finally ending the threat on a swinging strike by moving in just a touch from where he had been locating the previous pitches.
He did not look so strong against Collin Cowgill next, missing high and in before parking a fastball in the middle. Cowgill, fortunately, could do nothing but pop the pitch up to end the inning. Scheppers came out even better once he had a clean slate of bases.
Scheppers started Seth Smith low and away with a fastball taken, then up and in to start 0-2. After a fastball high and away, Scheppers moved towards the edge of the left handed zone with a change up, close enough that Smith had to swing, and off-speed enough to get him to miss for a strikeout. Against Brandon Inge next, Scheppers worked up high and inside, getting a foul ball, then missing to tie the count at 1-1, before launching his power curve to induce a ground out.
Brandon Moss next only saw one pitch, unfortunately. Scheppers place a fast ball low and over the plate, with a little less break than he was averaging on the pitch. Too much lower and it may have been called a ball, and he appeared to hit his location judging by Mike Napoli's mitt, so it's tough to say it was a terrible pitch. It was not necessarily an un-hittable pitch turned in to a home run, either. It was just something that happens in baseball.
Scheppers responded by throwing a mixture of sliders and fastballs against Kurt Suzuki. He started up 0-2 quickly by sneaking a slider in to the zone, then getting a whiff on a high fastball, but struggled to put Suzuki away, taking seven pitches before finally inducing a ground ball on a slider.
All told, Scheppers ended up looking decent enough. He allowed a home run, but that was also the only solid contact made against him. He had three swinging strikes -- two of the fastball, one on the change -- for two strikeouts and two harmless ground balls. Considering fastball command has been largely the knock on him when he has struggled, seeing him place the pitch where he wanted it so much of his inning and two-thirds was a small bright spot in an ugly game.
You can't read much in to one debut, and it unfortunately wasn't perfect -- and it was the Athletics -- but Tanner Scheppers has at least done nothing yet in his Major League career to suggest he can't be another effective piece in the Texas bullpen.