As a kid and future pitcher growing up in Sacramento, you’d think that Pirates righty Nick Mears (@NickMears46) would be a Giants fan, with that fearsome rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, and Tim Lincecum among others, right?
He grew up as a Red Sox fan. He idolized Pedro Martinez and modeled himself after Joe Kelly (“he threw harder than me”). He credits his dad, who loved Carl Yastremski, for his fandom.
These days, though, he’s a proud Bucco who had his major league dream come true this past August 8th, when he was brought up from Altoona to pitch against the Tigers (he has Derek Shelton’s lineup card to prove it). The first batter he faced was former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, memorable enough in itself. However, Cabrera’s resulting pop fly caused the collision between Phillip Evans and Gregory Polanco that broke Evans’s jaw and put him out for the rest of the season. When Mears went to check on his teammate, “the umpire yelled at me to get out of there,” although the other players were allowed around Evans. He talked to the Tigers’ third-base coach until Evans was taken off the field.
“It was only ten minutes,” he said, “but it seemed like hours.”
Fortunately, Mears has been on an upswing since then. Without the Arizona Fall League in gear, he’s been ramping up his training program, proudly noting that he now holds the world record for the fastest throw of a 3-ounce pyloball from a walking windup, hitting 102.6 MPH.
The former record holder? Tyler Glasnow.
Mears wasted no time in letting pitching coach Oscar Marin know, either. During our conversation, Mears was effusive in his praise for Marin’s judicious use of biometrics and also lauded Curve pitching coach Joel Hanrahan for his willingness to embrace new technology.
Mears’s primary goal in the offseason is to improve his ability “to land my curveball for a strikeout consistently.” As of right now, he’s not interested in adding another pitch to his repertoire, but he did say that 2020 was the first time that he utilized a straight-up curveball, rather than the “slurve” he threw in the minors.
“My goal is to have two overpowering pitches to throw whenever I want,” he said.
While he definitely plans to be in the Show mix in 2021, he took care to give props to the Pirates’ minor league and farm system teams, calling them “exceptional.” And he’s not worried about whatever role the Pirates may ask him to play, whether it’s as a set-up guy as he is now or a possible closer down the road.
“It’s a lot easier to keep the optimism for myself,” he said. “I see the work that everyone’s putting in and the progress to become the best version of themselves as a baseball player.”
Special thanks to Paul Kuo of Ballengee Group for setting up this interview.