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Moronta takes big step forward in second spring appearance

NBC Sports
Reyes Moronta

During the sixth inning of Tuesday night's Giants game, outfielder Mike Yastrzemski put on a headset and joined Kruk and Kuip from the dugout at Scottsdale Stadium. It was a fun back-and-forth interview, and at one point Yastrzemski put on a play-by-play hat and delivered the best news of the night. 

"There's a 95," Yastrzemski said, looking up at the scoreboard radar gun after Reyes Moronta delivered a fastball. 

Moronta's outing stood out on a night when it really, really needed to. He had pitched a scoreless inning in his spring debut last week, but there were major concerns about his velocity, which sat around 92 mph and topped out at 94. He took a couple steps forward Tuesday while inheriting the bases loaded and striking out the side, mostly firing fastballs in at 94 mph. 

"That's a tough situation coming in with the bases loaded and punching out three. A pretty impressive performance, and obviously the velocity uptick is encouraging and he's done a lot of work to get there," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We're happy for him. He's got a long way to go but it's certainly encouraging and I'm looking forward to his next outing already."

Moronta had shoulder surgery in September of 2019 and missed all of last season as he rehabbed, but he did make it to the alternate site and saw most of his velocity return, so it was a bit surprising that he was held out of the first couple weeks of Cactus League games. Kapler at times has referenced Moronta's conditioning, and when he finally took the mound it was clear he wasn't back to 100 percent. 

 

Moronta averaged 97.2 mph with his fastball in 2019 before his shoulder gave out, and while he's still not there, Tuesday's outing was closer to the norm. He leaned heavily on his fastball, getting the first two strikeouts with it -- Joey Bart helped with a good frame job on one -- after entering in place of Scott Kazmir, who had loaded the bases. Moronta ended the inning with a slider and Bart met him out in front of the mound, tapping Moronta's chest as the right-hander flashed a huge smile. 

Moronta came to camp in a great spot given the roster's need for reliable right-handed relief, but he has a lot of work to do at this point to become a lock for the opener. Still, this was a big step, not just for the pitcher but for the team. Free agent addition Matt Wisler later struck out the side in a slider-heavy inning, perhaps allowing Kapler to dream of having two new reliable right-handed arms at the back of his 'pen at some point this season. 

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Moronta has taken the slow start to the spring in stride, saying over the weekend that he wasn't too concerned because these games are his first time facing big league hitters since 2019. He has dropped nine pounds since arriving in Scottsdale and said he's confident he's getting closer to his old self. 

"I have faith and I have hope that my (pitch) speed is going to come back," he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "I know that eventually my shoulder is going to get stronger and I know that I'm going to be at 98 mph."

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