04/08/09 8:15 PM ET
Veal resilient in face of unusual outing
Reliever allows homer, three walks, but strikes out side
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
When he jogged in from the left-field bullpen to relieve Ian Snell in the fifth on Tuesday night, he did so with nerves. That, of course, is to be expected from a 24-year-old left-hander who likely wouldn't have been on an Opening Day roster if it hadn't been for his status as a Rule 5 Draft pick.
But he is on the Pirates' roster, and he did make his first appearance, one that Veal appropriately described as "one of the most interesting debuts ever."
It began with two straight pitches off the plate. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina took pitch No. 3 and dumped it over the outfield wall for a home run. Veal responded with consecutive strikeouts, but he then issued three straight walks on a total of 13 pitches.
It was similar control problems -- 81 walks in 145 1/3 innings in Double-A last season -- that had dropped Veal's prospect status. But on Tuesday night, Veal wiggled his way out of an ominous jam by garnering an inning-ending strikeout on an 80-mph curveball to strand the bases loaded.
It certainly wasn't pretty. But for a pitcher who had never pitched above Double-A until Tuesday, don't underestimate how critical that strikeout could prove to be for his confidence.
"That was part of the realization that I can do this," Veal said. "It's not a talent or an ability or anything like that. I wasn't able to locate my fastballs as well, but at least I was able to locate better with my breaking ball and battle and get through a tough inning."
Manager John Russell, too, was impressed by the resilience he saw from the young lefty.
"It was encouraging," Russell said. "It wasn't like he was misfiring by feet. He was just off the plate when he walked guys. His breaking ball came around, which he really didn't show the consistency of that in Spring Training. You get that first one under your belt, it's usually a tough one. And he came through it OK."
Veal will continue to be used in non-pressure relief situations, much like the one on Tuesday, as the Pirates hope that they can work through his control problems and keep Veal on the roster all season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.