Flamethrower Eovaldi continues to refine other pitches

Flamethrower Eovaldi continues to refine other pitches

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As one of the hardest-throwing starters in the National League, Nathan Eovaldi relied heavily on his power fastball last year.

It's understandable because it's the Marlins right-hander's greatest weapon.

According to Fangraphs.com, Eovaldi threw fastballs 70.6 percent of the time in '13. Among starters with at least 100 innings, the website noted Eovaldi's 96.2 mph fastball average was tops in the Majors.

An objective for Eovaldi in Spring Training was to improve his secondary pitches. His slider is his second-best pitch, and he's refining his curveball. He worked a bit on his changeup, but that is a work in progress.

On Wednesday, Eovaldi made his final Grapefruit League start, and it was impressive until the game slipped away in the final few innings.

The Braves won 9-2, snapping a 2-2 tie with four runs in the seventh.

Eovaldi's line was four runs allowed on six hits in six-plus innings, with two scoring in the seventh. The right-hander struck out five and walked one, exiting after 85 pitches and yielding back-to-back hits in the seventh inning. He even received a mild scare when Braves Minor Leaguer Philip Gosselin ripped a comebacker that struck the back of Eovaldi's right cleat for an infield single.

To make sure he was fine, Eovaldi threw a warmup pitch, and he remained in the game. Ryan Doumit ripped an RBI double, and Eovaldi was replaced by Carlos Marmol.

A year ago, Eovaldi had a strong Spring Training, and he was scheduled to be the No. 2 starter. But in the last inning of his final Grapefruit League start, he experienced right shoulder soreness that landed him on the disabled list.

Bad thoughts crossed the minds of manager Mike Redmond and Co. on Wednesday.

"Of course," Redmond said. "Not again."

Eovaldi is lined up to pitch in the second game of the regular season against the Rockies at Marlins Park on Tuesday night.

Prior to the comeback single, Eovaldi had retired 11 straight. In the outing, he also struck out Freddie Freeman in the third inning on a full-count curveball, and he fanned Jason Heyward in the fifth inning with a slider.

In terms of mixing his pitches up, Eovaldi could wind up throwing close to 70 percent fastballs in 2014. If he does so, the key will be how many of the other 30 percent of his pitches are strikes.

"It's the 30 percent, how many of those are over? And in what counts can you throw them?" pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said. "That's where the difference lies. If the 30 percent we're throwing is getting over the plate at about 25, 30 percent, that's not good. You're going to get killed. But if the 30 percent is about 80 percent over the plate, he can work around that."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter