Sunday Notes: NYY Yates, Fields, Hinch, Wright, Nola, more

Kirby Yates is beginning his third big-league season, and his first as a New York Yankee. That qualifies him as a success story. In his own words, “This was really close to never happening.”

Thanks to dogged determination, it is.

Yates went undrafted out of Yavapai (Community) College in 2009. It was a slap in the face. His resume was admittedly spotty — Tommy John surgery had limited his post-high-school looks — but not having his name called was nonetheless rough. He was “pretty bummed.”

Three days after the draft, with a scholarship offer from Division II Mesa State on the table, he got a call from “The one scout who liked me.” That was Jayson Durocher, who subsequently inked Yates to a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Teams weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to sign me, but the Rays needed a pitcher in rookie ball,” said Yates. “I ended up being that guy. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to the Appalachian League.”

Yates pitched well, and he proceeded to do so at each step as he climbed the minor-league ladder. He had a chip on his shoulder.

“I think a lot of players find one of those,” Yates told me. “I definitely did. I saw a lot of guys get drafted, some high, that I felt I was way better than. But I wouldn’t change what happened for anything. The chip on my shoulder set that fire, that determination not to fail.”

Yates did experience some failure last season. He was solid in his 2014 rookie season — a 3.75 ERA in 37 appearances — but last year that number jumped to 7.97, in 20 appearances. It was his first poor season since entering pro ball. Not a concern. As he put it, “That’s the way the game goes.”

The fact that his career has gone where it has isn’t remarkable — others have followed a similar path — but he still beat the odds. There’s something to be said for that. When he received his first call-up, in June 2014, there were a lot of words, some sprinkled with tears.

“There were a bunch of phone calls and some long conversations that night,” said Yates. “To be honest, it got pretty emotional. Talking to my family, there was a little bit of, ’This wasn’t supposed to happen.’ So yeah, there were (some tears). My brother (Tyler Yates) was a big-leaguer and we watched his career unfold. We’ve always been a baseball family.”

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Last September, Eno Sarris wrote about the spiritual side of Josh Fields. The Astros reliever is a man of faith as well as a power pitcher. How much the former contributes to his success can’t be quantified. As for his raw stuff, Fields has a mid-90s fastball and an 11.07 K/9 in 150 career appearances.

Originally in the Mariners system, Fields came to Houston from Boston in the December 2012 Rule 5 draft. He was more of a thrower than a pitcher when he arrived, and that hasn’t totally changed. He’s “still kind of just chucking it up there.” What’s different is that he’s “doing it in a more consistent manner.”

Fields can’t pinpoint when he begin turning the corner, but he does give a lot of credit to his Double-A pitching coach.

“I started working with Bob Kipper in 2012, and he really taught me a lot,” said Fields. “With Kip, it wasn’t really so much about the style of pitcher I was. It was more about getting back to the basics and being as consistent as I possibly could. There was a lot of dry work, a lot of over-and-over stuff that helped make my delivery more repeatable.”

Another key developmental step occurred after he got to Houston. While Kipper cleaned him up, (former special assistant) Doug Brocail and (pitching coach) Brent Strom helped him find his identity.

“With Doug and Strommy, it was more, ‘Throw hard, work up in the zone, cut it loose,’” explained Fields. “I’d never heard that before. It was always, ‘You’ve got to pitch down in the zone; you’ve got to do this, do that.’ That’s not the type of pitcher I am.”

Fields doesn’t have a remarkable four-seam spin rate. Even if he did, he wouldn’t be especially interested in the particulars. All he cares about is the end result.

“They talk a little bit about that here, but it don’t really mean much to me,” said Fields. “As long as I’m getting outs on the field, that’s good enough for me. I’m pretty simple. I just try to do what I do, and hopefully the good lord takes the rest of it.”

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According to AJ Hinch, the Astros have multiple closers. They have a flexible bullpen overall. Unlike some teams, they don’t plan to lock their relievers into single-inning, cookie-cutter roles. Bridges are part of the plan.

“I have no problem bring a guy in for the end of an inning and then starting the next inning,” Hinch said on Wednesday. “As baseball has shifted toward match-ups, you don’t designate innings as much as you used to. In a versatility bullpen, like some teams like to have, us included, multiple innings become a key — the ability to bring (a reliever) in at any point in an inning and carry him over. What if I have back-to-back good match-ups and he gets the first guy out to end an inning? Why would I punish our team by not having him face the next guy who I intended him to face?

“That’s a multiple-inning mindset. Our guys know. These guys are all going to be expected get up and down twice. No exceptions.”

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Hinch’s comments reminded me of a story I once heard from another manager. One of his relievers came into a game and got an inning-ending double play on his first pitch. When he came off the field, the manager told him he’d be going back out for the next inning. The pitcher was incredulous. “What? I only go one (bleeping) inning.”

The manager pulled rank and sent him back out to the mound. It didn’t work out. The decision made sense on the surface, but deep-down, the commitment apparently wasn’t there. The reluctant hurler spit the bit.

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Eddie Guardado was never hesitant to take the ball. “Everyday Eddie” ranks 22nd all-time with 908 appearances. He came out of the pen 60 or more times in nine different seasons, including 83 times for the Twins in 1996. The durable southpaw now serves as Minnesota’s bullpen coach, and in his opinion there’s a big difference between can’t and won’t.

“I didn’t get the nickname for nothing,” Guardado told me this spring. “Give me the ball anytime. I didn’t care if I was a little sore, give me the ball. That was my job. That’s what I got paid for. I think that if you’re a major league pitcher, you should be able to go any given day, unless you’re hurt. Sore, you can deal with.”

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Steven Wright is starting for the Red Sox today. The knuckleballer was expected to work out of the bullpen, but that changed when Eduardo Rodriguez was hobbled by a knee injury. What happens when Rodriguez returns — mid May is the expectation — remains to be seen. If Wright is bumped back to the pen, but is throwing well, an intriguing possibility exists.

Steve Sparks and I talked about this a few days ago. The Astros broadcaster threw a knuckleball in his playing days, and he agrees with my idea of using Wright as a multiple-times-a-week bridge between the starter and late-inning relievers.

An argument against not letting your starters go through the order a third time is that it would tax the bullpen. That issue would be alleviated if you had a pitcher who could work the middle innings on designated days of the week. You wouldn’t do it with a David Price on the mound, but like most teams, Boston has more ponies than horses.

Wright feels he could go multiple innings, multiple times a week.

“I don’t see why not,” Wright told me earlier in the spring. “I do get tired — I’m still throwing a baseball — but it’s easier for me to bounce back than a conventional pitcher. I’d just need to stay under control. I might not be throwing my harder one, my 75-78 (mph) — I might only be 72 — but as long as I throw it with conviction, it should be a quality pitch. Being able to throw my knuckleball two different speeds gives me the flexibility to go out there and throw multiple times a week.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell was non-committal when I broached the subject.

“We look to put all of our guys in the best position to succeed,” said the Sox skipper. “If that means removing a starter before he’s physically spent, for what might be a production outcome… again, that’s going back to putting your people in the best position to succeed.”

My guess is that Farrell won’t try it. Given the current composition of his rotation, he probably should.

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Aaron Nola is well-balanced. The Phillies’ budding ace throws an equitable mix of two-seam fastballs (34.2%), four-seam fastballs (29.5) and curveballs (24.8). For good measure, he’ll toss in a changeup approximately 11% of the time.

(An admission: Glancing at Nola’s player page prior to talking to him on Friday, I mistook his 2016 pitch percentages — one game against the Reds — for last year’s. Hence, the numbers I communicated to him (sorry Aaron) were ballpark, but not precise.)

Nola told me wasn’t aware of the percentages. At the same time, he wasn’t surprised.

“I just throw my pitches when I need to and it works out like it works out,” said the 22-year-old righty. “My main focus is on executing and while it kind of depends on what feels best in a given game, at the end of the day, I guess it balances out.”

Hw doesn’t expect to alter his mix this season, despite the fact that his fourth-best pitch was a major focus this spring. As Nola put it, “More changeups isn’t a goal. A more consistent changeup is.”

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Tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game will be played in Detroit. The forecast calls for temperatures in the high 30s with a possibility of rain mixed with snow. Surprised? Neither am I.

Detroit is in Michigan. Of course the weather is inclement in early April. Allow me to be blunt. Scheduling an early-season game for 8 o’clock on a Sunday in an upper-midwest city is mind-numbingly stupid.

The Giants and Dodgers play each other tonight. In California. And not only is that an appealing match-up, both teams are off tomorrow, while the Tigers will be playing a day game.

If you’re planning to be at Comerica tonight, I suggest wearing a parka. And feel free to extend a middle finger in the direction of ESPN’s schedule makers. They already have one pointed at you.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports wrote about Ross Stripling’s near no-hitter. It was baseball writing at its finest. “He knew why Roberts was coming. Those final five outs would sit out there forever, somebody else’s.”

Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com wrote about a record-setting game by three St. Louis Cardinals. To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised this had never happened before.

According to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, the Angels are Turning Up the Frequency of Shifts. Mike Scioscia ws quoted as saying, “Even though we started to shift the last three years, this is helping you to shrink the field even more.”

Cole Hamels is happy with the data being made available to him in Texas. The Phillie-turned-Ranger shared the following with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News: “The scouting here is much more reliant on analytics than I had. So much of what I did before was based on experience. Everything is right there on the iPad.”

Per Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart, Marwin Gonzalez has hit 24 career home runs and all have come with the bases empty. It’s a unique record (for now).

Thanks to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, we know that the Diamondbacks turned a 3-2-5-2-6-9 double play against the Cubs on Friday.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Six days into the season (Sunday through Friday), Jean Segura, Trevor Story and Tyler White are a combined 27 for 54 with 11 home runs. Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki and Joey Votto are a combined 7 for 50 with two home runs.

Per @ktsharp, Starlin Castro was 26 years 16 days old when he got his 1,000th hit. Derek Jeter was 26 years 94 days old when he got his 1,000th hit.

Hall of Fame outfielder George Sisler made 24 pitching appearances, including 12 starts. Fellow Cooperstown inductees Sam Crawford and Ty Cobb went a combined 1 for 10 against Sisler.

Rusty Staub is the only player with 500-plus hits for four different teams (Astros, Expos, Mets, Tigers).

Joe Niekro hit one home run in 973 career at bats. It came against his brother Phil, on May 29, 1976.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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jruby
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jruby

Brilliant stuff as always!