It has been a tale of two months for Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher JT Brubaker.
April was poor, but May was stellar.
The Pirates 2022 Opening Day starter has been a shaky piece in the starting rotation since making his MLB debut during the shortened-2020 season.
Brubaker displayed stints of solid pitching performances last season but never put everything together in either year to record a sub-4.90 ERA.
The Bucs former sixth-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft owns a career 5.01 ERA in 45 games, 43 of them as starts.
The lackluster performances continued for Brubaker to begin the season in April, struggling against opposing hitters to the tune of a 6.20 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in five starts spanning 20.1 innings.
Once the calendar flipped to May, something changed in his approach to attacking hitters.
Brubaker, 28, has thrown five or more innings in every start since, starting the same number of games as the previous month.
The splits are eye-popping and exemplary of Brubaker’s change in philosophy on the mound. His ERA dipped to a 2.63 mark during those five starts and dropping his WHIP to 1.28. Brubaker allowed five more hits and one less walk in an additional seven innings pitched. He allowed two or fewer runs in all but one, giving up six runs (four earned) against the Chicago Cubs on May 17.
Comparing April and May, Brubaker is throwing his four-seam fastball, sinker, and slider significantly more now than before. After throwing his sinker and slider about 32% of the time, the highest of any other pitches, Brubaker is offering his sinker at a 38.3% clip. His slider is not far behind at 35.3%.
He did not throw his fastball much to begin with but has seen an uptick from 11.3% to 13.9% usage. Brubaker loves throwing his sinker when he is behind hitters, slotting in at 51.2% with the slider the next closest (29.8%). The righty also does not throw first-pitch changeups at all anymore, down from 12.8% to 2.5%.
Curveball and changeup numbers are down to begin with for Brubaker as he depends on the sinker/slider mix to retire hitters.
These necessary adjustments have helped him to not allow a run over his past two starts. Opponents are only hitting .195 against the slider with 19 strikeouts.
Contributing to the Pirates rotation as now a veteran and settling in as a back-of-the-rotation starter, Brubaker is not going to consistently overpower anyone with his repertoire. Depending on pitch location and getting ahead of hitters will be a continued focus to further his success.
Brubaker’s five-pitch mix has guided him to a position where he can pick and choose what is working for him and not completely be out of sorts with his control. He does need to keep lowering his walk rate to limit men on base and situationally pitch as well as he did during May.
Following a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, something hardly anyone with rational expectations could see coming true before the Pirates landed in Los Angeles, Brubaker takes the mound at PNC Park on Friday facing the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Brubaker will look to continue his upward trend into June and not sink back into April form or become a mixed back of up-and-down starts despite the calendar signaling a new day and a new month on the horizon.