Without being hyperbolic, after seeing Jose Ascanio tonight, I think he could probably be the Pirates' closer tomorrow and be better than Matt Capps or Joel Hanrahan might be at the job. That may not say much, but Ascanio was exactly as impressive as his line for the night looks: 6 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs, 9 Ks, 1 BB. His fastball ran as high as 97 and was still hitting 95 in the seventh inning and his sinker was nasty and caught several guys, including Reid Brignac, off-guard for strikeouts.
Judging by the unscientific "pop of the mitt" test, he was certainly the hardest throwing pitcher that I saw tonight, but I was curious enough about his velocity that I wandered past some scouts sitting behind the plate that had their own gun and theirs either matched the scoreboard or was a mile per hour faster than the speed posted in center. Below, I've compiled about four minutes of footage showing Ascanio warming up and pitching to a few different batters during the course of last night's game:
That leads us to the second big question for Ascanio; can he start? I'm not as certain of that, despite his sustaining his velocity late into his start. His reputation is that he's a fastball/sinker guy with a slider and changeup that aren't as effective. For the most part, his fastball sat around 93-94 and his off-speed stuff came in at 83-88. I'd guess that the pitches that fall on the higher half of that (where most of them seemed to be) are his sinker, lower than that is the slider. I did see maybe a handful of pitches clock in at 79-81. I'd assume that's probably the change. That said, I was moving around the park with my camera taking pictures and that kept me from keeping score and trying to figure out which breaking pitch he was getting outs with.
What worried me a bit was that in the sixth inning he didn't break 90 until the final batter of the inning, trying to get a strikeout. Maybe he was leaning on the sinker more heavily that inning; again, it's not easy to tell in person. He then started the seventh with two fastballs around 92, then Jon Weber whacked a 95 mph pitch over the right field fence. He bore down and kept hitting 94/95 to get his last two strikeouts and was then pulled for what I presume was a pitchcount. In both the sixth and the seventh, he wasn't struggling but he did seem, at least to me, to be laboring. I'm interested to see how his next start goes; I wouldn't be surprised at all if he struggles early after digging deep to finish this start strong.
All that being said, my immediate reaction to seeing Ascanio pitch tonight was very similar to my initial reaction to Charlie Morton's first start. I can't figure out why the Cubs would want to give this guy up. I'm obviously no scout, but the guy I saw on the mound tonight has the makings of a very good big league reliever at the very least, and after seeing him tonight it's not at all hard to envision him as a good big league starter. He was, by a pretty wide margin, the most impressive player on the field to my eye tonight.