Tallet's hard work paying off
Left-hander a crucial part of Toronto's bullpen
NEW YORK -- Brian Tallet defied baseball logic last season. For the most part, left-handed pitchers have greater success against left-handed hitters, but the Blue Jays reliever strayed from that trend during his second tour with Toronto.
With Tallet returning to an important role within Toronto's bullpen this season, the club wanted the southpaw to use the spring months to address the issue. If his first outing of the 2008 season is any indication, he appears to be headed in the right direction.
On Wednesday night, Tallet entered the game against the Yankees in a critical situation in the seventh inning, and he went on to deal a pair of shutout frames, helping Toronto to a 5-2 win. Mixed within the effort was a flawless performance against a quartet of dangerous left-handed batters -- early evidence that his work this spring might be paying off.
"When I came into camp, they wanted me to work on getting lefties out better," Tallet said. "It was as much having a plans against lefties as opposed to just having a plan against righties. So far it's working, and hopefully, it can continue."
At first Tallet began working on adding a curveball to his pitch repertoire, but he abandoned the offering after subpar results. Instead he teamed with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg to work on altering his slider, attempting to create a larger break with the pitch.
The slider and cut fastball are pitches that Tallet can use to tail away from left-handed batters. Last season, lefties posted a .247 average and a .697 on-base plus slugging percentage. Compare that with the .194 average and .555 OPS that Tallet managed against right-handed hitters, and it's easy to see why he focused on that area this spring.
"All spring I was working on trying to throw a curveball," he said, "but I didn't really have success with it. It's tough to try to learn a pitch if you haven't thrown it in nine years and try to learn it in a month.
"We just kind of [scrapped] it more than anything and worked on doing something different with the slider -- make it a little slower and make it a little bigger and add a little depth to it."
The 30-year-old Tallet relied heavily on his cutter in Wednesday's impressive two-inning performance against the Yankees. He began the outing by striking out New York's Jason Giambi with a 3-2 pitch. Giambi was one of four left-handed batters to step into the batter's box against Tallet, who recorded three strikeouts against that group.
It was the type of outing that Toronto hopes is a sign of things to come for Tallet, who is one of just two left-handers in the bullpen right now. The other is Scott Downs, who is serving as the primary setup man until recovering closer B.J. Ryan is ready to return from the 15-day disabled list -- possibly later this month.
It's a similar situation to that of last May, when Ryan underwent major reconstructive surgery on his left elbow. Ryan's absence forced Jeremy Accardo into the ninth-inning role and pressed Downs and Tallet into more regular roles. Last season, Tallet finished with a 3.47 ERA and career highs in both innings (62 1/3) and appearances (48).
"It was really huge to see the maturity," Tallet said, "and the maturation of our bullpen and the young guys, along with myself [last season]. It was really only my second year ever being in the bullpen, so I was still in the learning process. To see us have success, we all fed off each other."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.