Straily incorporates tweaked curveball into game plan

Straily incorporates tweaked curveball into game plan

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Considering he's struck out only one player on a curveball the last two seasons -- Pedro Alvarez in 2013 -- Astros right-hander Dan Straily has been working with pitching coach Brent Strom to find a way to make it a more effective part of his arsenal.

Strom has been working with Straily on a new curveball grip that makes it more deceiving, and he threw three of them in Thursday's outing against the Tigers, in which he allowed three hits and one run in three innings at Osceola County Stadium.

"I threw it three times and finally dropped it in for a strike," said Straily, who's competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. "It's something Strom and I have been working on for about a week now. It was good to feel confident enough to trust that in a game."

Straily threw his curveball only 4.7 percent of the time last year, relying mostly on his fastball-slider mix. His curveball tended to pop out of his hand, something Strom noticed right away after Straily came to the Astros in a trade from the Cubs. Straily said it wasn't really a viable Major League pitch.

"I still threw it, but it was not Major League quality," he said. "We're working on something that comes out down, something a little more deceiving, something that looks more like a fastball. Again, we took a step in the right direction today."

While the curveball will remain a work in progress, Straily's out pitch remains his slider.

"For me, that's always the last pitch to come," he said. "I always feel like for me, I'm waiting for the arm speed to catch up with it. It is my biggest weapon. I had a lot of slow starts in the spring, and this is by far are the best two outings I've had in Spring Training."

Straily, a 26-year-old right-hander, split last season between the A's and the Cubs, struggling with shoulder weakness. He's not long removed from some significant success in the Major Leagues. He went 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts in his rookie season with Oakland in 2013, leading American League rookies in games started, innings and strikeouts.

Straily's not worried about where he'll pitch to start this season.

"I'm here to get ready for 200 innings," he said. "That's my goal. Wherever those innings are going to be, that's not up to me. My job is to show up and pitch every fifth day. That's what I'm preparing for, and I took another step in the right direction."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.