Flamethrowing Pryor taking it slow this spring
Righty working on offspeed pitch to complement high-90s fastball, hard slider
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Drafted out of relatively unknown Tennessee Tech in 2010, Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor went from Low Class A ball to Safeco Field in what felt like, for him, the time it takes for one of his high-90s fastballs to leave his fingertips and hit the back of the catcher's mitt.
But even though everything about the fireballer's ascent to the big leagues has been fast, he is trying to take things slow in camp this spring ahead of what will likely be his first full Major League season.
"Right now, I'm just focusing on throwing strikes and letting everything else come gradually," Pryor said. "Every outing, I feel stronger and I feel like I have a good feel for the zone. My stuff isn't 100 percent there yet, but other than that, it's good. I feel healthy."
Pryor has made two appearances this spring, tossing two innings and allowing just an unearned run on no hits. The 23-year-old is tinkering with developing a third pitch to use more regularly when Opening Day comes around.
"I want something a little slower than my slider-fastball combination," he said. "Just trying to help myself get outs. It's going good, though, I'm mixing in a changeup and a curveball, so I gotta keep working on both and see which one works out best. Right now, I'm at the point where I'm just trying to throw them for strikes, so they definitely aren't at where they are out pitches just yet."
Last year, after pitching just one inning in Cactus League action for the Mariners, Pryor began his 2012 campaign with Double-A Jackson, amassing a 1.12 ERA over 16 innings and quickly earning a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma. There, the right-hander turned in even more impressive results, not allowing a single run in 20 innings, while striking out 20 batters.
"I'm really happy and pleased with everything that happened, I just didn't expect it to be that quick," he said. "Every level I played at, I had really good pitching coaches and was able to pick things up from each one of them. Whether it be mental or mechanical, it has helped me get to where I am."
Pryor made his big league debut on June 2 against the White Sox, then five days later he earned his first career victory pitching in Seattle's combined no-hitter against the Dodgers.
His first stint with the Mariners didn't last much longer, however, as he strained his left groin and landed on the disabled list for about a month. After he began throwing again, though, all it took was 10 days for Seattle to call him back up, where he spent the remainder of the season.
In all, Pryor tossed 23 innings in 2012 for the Mariners, finishing with a 3.91 ERA and 27 strikeouts.
"It was good, I had some good outings, some bad outings," he said. "I learned a lot, though, in a short period of time. It's stuff I haven't forgotten and I'm going to continue developing and hopefully have even better results this season."
Pryor said it took a while to adjust to the hitters at the highest level of baseball, because he couldn't get them to chase the pitches he normally would throw in the Minors.
"It was the discipline at the plate, you don't have as many free swings," he said. "And if you make a mistake in Double-A or Triple-A, it's still possible you'll get an out, but most of the time here, the pitch is going to get hit. Mistakes are magnified."
Ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners' No. 6 prospect, Pryor added he has learned a lot from studying Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who owns the role Pryor wants to fill someday.
"The pitch selection I watch a lot, plus he throws really hard like me," Pryor said. "He's a fastball guy who has a good breaking ball, so I watch how he uses that offspeed pitch and how he mixes in everything else. That's something I can learn from, where I'm not just trying to throw a ball by somebody every time. Trying to set up hitters for different counts and stuff."
Despite squarely being in Seattle's immediate and future plans, Pryor still feels he has a lot to prove with the team as Spring Training continues for the next four weeks. His attitude of always wanting to accomplish more is something he thinks will help for the rest of his career.
"I feel comfortable, but not complacent," he said. "I still feel like I'm trying to make a spot out of camp. That's my goal. I have to earn that. I have to work hard for it."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.