Tejay Antone took the mound for the first time in the spring on Wednesday night. If it was a preview of what was to come then it’s going to be a fantastic year for the second-year pitcher. Antone struck out five batters in 2.0 shutout innings as he came out throwing 98-99 MPH and dropping breaking balls in on hitters left-and-right and leaving them looking absolutely befuddled.
The Cincinnati Reds tweeted out some video of his outing, and why don’t you just prop your feet up, sit back, and click the play button and enjoy.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) March 4, 2021
Until last season Tejay Antone had always been a starting pitcher. Throughout his time in the minors he made over 100 starts, and his only two relief appearances were in special circumstances – one was in relief of a rehabbing player and the other was right before the All-Star break that just kept him from not pitching for a long period of time because of where his spot in the rotation fell. That’s it. The guy has always started.
In 2020 the Reds didn’t really have much of a choice but to get Tejay Antone on the roster as a reliever – with a full rotation, but Antone bursting onto the scene in spring training throwing in the upper 90’s out of nowhere with a plus slider, they found a way to get him on the mound and that was by placing hm in the bullpen. Before the year was over he had a chance to make a few starts, but spent most of the year making the National and American League Central Division hitters look silly as a reliever. In his 35.1 innings thrown he posted a 2.80 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP with 45 strikeouts.
Cincinnati appears to have two spots open in the rotation behind Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle. Tejay Antone is in the running for one of those spots, though manager David Bell recently stated that his gut tells him that Antone will wind up in the bullpen. The Reds manager was impressed with what he saw on the night.
“He looks very locked in,” said Bell of Antone. “It could have been the best fastball I’ve seen, that’s saying a lot – it was so good last year – but his fastball looked really good. He was throwing it right where he wanted it, upper 90’s, it just looked locked in. That’s what we’ve kind of grown accustomed to with Tejay, being very focused and determined. Even though it’s early in the spring it doesn’t surprise me that that’s how he’s approaching it.”
Tyler Stephenson was behind the plate early in the game and got a chance to catch Tejay Antone for the first time since they were both in Double-A together in the first half of the 2019 season.
“His stuff is that good,” said Stephenson. “I mean there’s no other way to put it. His stuff is plus-plus.”
The guy that Stephenson saw on Wednesday night was a lot different than the guy he was catching in Double-A two seasons ago.
“Seriously, he was a sinker ball pitcher, 90 MPH, good command,” said Stephenson. “Tonight he was 97-99 consistently, electric fastball, sliders about as good as it’s ever been.”
The approach in spring training, the stuff he’s showing – Tejay Antone is out there to get it. What is he trying to get? A spot in the rotation.
“Yeah, I want to start,” Antone said. “But wherever this team needs me, I’ll be.”
While tonight did see Tejay Antone come out of the bullpen, it’s important to note that he did throw two innings. It’s also important to note that he’s scheduled to start for the Reds on Monday against the Colorado Rockies.
With two spots seemingly open in the rotation it seems that Tejay Antone fits in better than just about anyone. Only Wade Miley has a better big league resume as a starting pitcher, and Miley’s a guy that is coming back from an injury-plagued season and the team is still speaking about trying to find ways to keep him healthy. Michael Lorenzen made fewer starts for the Reds last year than Antone did, and he’s only made five total starts since 2016 began. Jeff Hoffman, who actually did start the game for the Reds on Wednesday night, has a career ERA of 6.40 in the Major Leagues across five seasons. José De León is in a similar boat as Antone – a guy who has long been a starting pitcher in the minors, saw his stuff take a step forward last year and perhaps this offseason, and is looking for an opportunity to start – but unlike Antone, he doesn’t have a big league season of success like Antone did in 2020.
While Tejay Antone certainly threw hard last year in the big leagues – he averaged 96 MPH and topped out at 99 – he spent the offseason working on his stuff, including his fastball to try and improve the spin efficiency on the pitch to allow it to play even better.
“My fastball last season wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be in terms of just the way it was spinning,” said Antone. “I had pretty poor spin efficiency last year. I was getting away with it because I was throwing a little harder, but I was getting hit pretty good in the zone and I wanted to improve, just kind of the spin metrics in terms of spin efficiency, not really increasing spin or anything but just spinning it more true. I was just like cutting it off, just getting around the fastball a lot last year. So this year, that was my whole focus this offseason, staying through the ball and allowing the spin to work for me and kind of ride through the zone a little better.”
As was written two weeks ago about the improvements that Tejay Antone had been working on, he already had one of the best sliders and best curveballs in baseball during the 2020 season. And he believes he has improved both his fastball and his curveball in the offseason.
The breaking ball and fastball combination for Tejay Antone can be a serious weapon. David Bell spoke about the fastball he showed, the command of it, and how it works with the secondary stuff.
“Yeah, if there’s another level, a next level for Tejay it’s just being able to command his fastball,” said Bell. “He did do that last year, but I think there’s probably some room for improvement there. Tonight we saw him do that very effectively. I think the velo is there, but when he’s commanding it like that it makes it tough because he’s got an excellent breaking ball and you pair those up and it’s a tough at-bat.”
If Tejay Antone wants to start, the Cincinnati Reds need to let him start. Don’t carve his name in stone in the rotation just yet, but give him every single opportunity to show something as a starter this spring. He has the starting pitchers background. He’s got four pitches. And from a pure stuff standpoint, he’s right there with just about anyone on the pitching staff – and that’s saying a lot when it’s got Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo on the same pitching staff.