SAN DIEGO — Reyes Moronta believes his fastball will come back and his fear will leave. His shoulder injury took the first from him and gave him the second.
The Giants’ righty has returned a different pitcher in the very early going of the season, relying heavily on an effective slider but without the high-90s heat he possessed before the labrum surgery late in the 2019 season.
His fastball has gained a few ticks since his first worrisome outing in Scottsdale — it’s averaging 94.1 mph in two appearances, while it was at 97.2 in ’19 — and he believes that with more strength and more reps it will gradually grow stronger.
And he’s hoping the memory of collapsing after throwing a pitch grows weaker.
“I think that as I keep pitching I will get better,” Moronta said through translator Erwin Higueros on Tuesday, before the Giants and Padres faced off for game two of their series at Petco Park. “One of the things that is helping is having faith in myself. I’m a little bit scared after this shoulder injury that I have still fresh in my mind. So I have to lose it — I have to trust myself and not be afraid anymore about the injury.”
Moronta’s injury was about as scary as they get, throwing a pitch Aug. 31 and then immediately going down in pain. He was helped off the field and soon on an operating table for labrum surgery.
He believes the more he pitches, the more it will recede. And the more his shoulder strength will build up. In his first spring appearance, his fastball sat at about 92 mph, according to the Scottsdale Stadium gun, which raised alarms that have quieted as the velocity has picked up. But it’s still not where it was two years ago.
And so he’s employing a different pitch mix than two years ago. In two appearances, he’s allowed one run — a Mitch Haniger home run — while throwing just 35 percent fastballs. The usage rate was at 58.4 percent in 2019. He has turned often to his slider, and in the tiniest sample size possible, it’s induced four outs without allowing a hit. The pitch has more drop than it did two years ago, and he’s been happy with how it’s coming along.
“In my first outing, it wasn’t breaking as much,” the 28-year-old said. “But I noticed that [Monday] it was breaking a little bit more, so I know that it’s going to get better.”
That’s the theme with Moronta: The more reps, the better he’ll feel, both mentally and physically. In the meantime, he has shown the beginnings of an ability to get outs without getting strikeouts. Of the six batters he has retired, none has been punched out. On Monday, he faced Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Tommy Pham in an important seventh inning, and forced all three to ground out. Just 37.4 percent of his outs in 2019 were through groundouts.
He’s a different pitcher, but the results have been OK anyway. He’s working on getting back to being himself.
“Having experienced significant injuries myself, it’s the more you’re out there, the more you’re on the mound in Reyes’ case, the more likely it is that you’re going to have that boost of confidence at the right time,” Gabe Kapler said over Zoom. “Sometimes it takes a little bit longer than we expect.”