A Confident Start for Arizona Diamondbacks Taylor Clarke

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - MAY 07: Taylor Clarke #45 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on May 07, 2019 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Taylor Clarke made his first MLB start for the Arizona Diamondbacks last Tuesday when he pitched against one of the best teams in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays. He was called up for the second time this season from Triple-A Reno and slotted in to start in place of Zack Godley who had been relegated to the bullpen.

He certainly did everything he needed to do to show everyone what kind of pitcher he can be. His first pitch to start the game was a home run, but he settled down to pitch six innings. In those innings, he had 90 pitches, allowed two runs, and recorded two strikeouts.

Pitching with runners on did not phase him. The second run scored in the fourth inning during the turning of a ground ball double-play. Another positive, he recorded 11 ground outs against only three fly outs. Clarke was pulled while the score was 2-1 in favor of the Rays. Unfortunately, Yoshihisa Hirano and Matt Andriese combined to give up four more runs in 1 2⁄3 innings of work and Clarke took the loss.

How Taylor Clarke Got to Arizona

The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Taylor Clarke in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft. He spent his first professional season with the Hillsboro Hops of the Class A-Short Season Northwest League where he did not give up a run in 21 innings pitched.

In the 2016 season, Clarke split time with the Kane County Cougars, Visalia Rawhide, and the Mobile BayBears. In 149.1 innings pitched, he posted a combined 12-9 record and 3.31 ERA. 2017 was spent playing for both the Jackson Generals and the Reno Aces. The end result was a 12-9 record and 3.35 ERA in 145 total innings. Last year, he spent the whole season with the Reno Aces, finishing 13-8 with a 4.03 ERA.

Clarke was added to the Diamondbacks 40-man roster after the 2018 season and began 2019 with the Aces. He was 3-1 with a 6.12 ERA in 5 games when he was called up again. Although his ERA was high, the Pacific Coast League (PCL) has long been known as a hitter’s heaven and a pitcher’s worst nightmare. The air is thin, the ball is tough to grip, and the ball flies.

When throwing a breaking ball or even a curveball, the ball does not break the way it should. This is mainly due to the higher elevations at the PCL parks, especially Las Vegas, Reno, Albuquerque, and El Paso. Even with his high ERA the Diamondbacks added him to their roster in April. His major league debut was against the Chicago Cubs, where he went three scoreless innings in relief and earned a save.

Clarke’s Repertoire of Pitches

Clarke has three major pitches; a fastball, a slider, and a changeup. Coming out of college scouts had reported that he lacked control of his fastball. He worked on moving his fastball, ranging from 92-96 MPH, up and down the strike zone in the minor leagues. Pitching coaches Gil Heredia and Doug Drabek provided him with exceptional guidance.

Clarke has a decent slider that tops out at 81 MPH. It typically rotates in a clockwise direction, breaking “down and away.” His changeup is still developing, but he’s shown a decent feel for it.

What his pitching coaches have noticed since working with him is that he can throw all his pitches for strikes. He has adapted well to expand the zone getting the hitters to chase his pitches.

What the Future Holds for Taylor Clarke

After his start, he was optioned back to Triple-A Reno. The Diamondbacks, however, know Clarke can find success in a relief role should a starting role not work out for him. He has a strong durable body type, listed at 6’3 and 210 pounds. Therefore, he should be able to hold up to the demands of being in a rotation.

Although he has only made two big-league appearances, Clarke has shown the confidence necessary for an MLB pitcher. He carries himself like a big-league starter with his demeanor and competitiveness. He has terrific control and command of his pitches, moving the ball around and keeping it effectively down in the zone. That being said, he continues working to improve.

He may end up being a number four or five starter. After his impressive debut—and to his credit, he pitched without anxiety even after that home run to lead off the game—one has to like his chances of sticking around for a while. If he can keep his confidence and calm against the surging Rays lineup, he can do it against every team. Look for him to make a few more appearances during the 2019 season for the Diamondbacks.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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