SARASOTA, Fla. - After his outing versus Boston on Wednesday night, the spring stats don’t look as solid for right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis. He allowed four runs (three earned) in a messy top of the eighth. But several factors worked against him in the inning - a double play not turned that would have ended a scoreless inning, two passed balls, a throwing error and a strikeout that went for a wild pitch with a runner reaching.
Before that, Yacabonis had allowed two runs over 7 2/3 innings and now he has an ERA of 5.40. No doubt the coaches will see a bigger picture, one where a pitcher has both closed games and started games in his career, and provides an option as a versatile pitcher capable of several roles. If he starts 2019 in the minors, no doubt his chance will come to impact the major league roster.
After making the first 205 appearances of his pro career out of the bullpen, Yacabonis made 28 starts last year. He made 21 at Triple-A Norfolk and seven for the Orioles.
As spring training’s final days have arrived, he’s trying to make the opening day roster. In what exact role, he is not sure. Starter, multiple-inning reliever, swingman, late-inning reliever. He’s been there and done that over the course of his time with the club since they drafted him in round 13 out of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in 2013.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said before Wednesday’s game when asked what role he will be used in this season. “Broc (pitching coach Doug Brocail) told me just to trust in my stuff and keep pitching the way I’ve been pitching. I’m not too worried about it. I think it adds value to my own stock, being able to throw multiple innings, being able to start. Obviously, I was a setup guy and closer most of my entire time in the minors. Really adds some flexibility.
“Knock on wood, I’ve been to bounce back well my whole career. If I can give them multiple innings out of the bullpen on back-to-back nights, not too many guys can do that.”
At Triple-A last season, Yacabonis went 3-5 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 76 innings. In 40 innings with the Orioles - in seven different stints with the big club - he was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Yacabonis was the 26th man for a doubleheader three times in 2018.
We all seem to have a strong focus on the opening day 25-man roster, but Yacabonis has personal experience that you can miss out on making that but still find yourself in the big leagues early during a season. It happened to him last year.
“You want to make the team, that is your goal,” he said. “But last year, I went to Norfolk and hadn’t even made a start and I got called up (on April 7) for the bullpen in New York. Now being through that and realizing how the game works, ultimately I won’t be discouraged if I go to Triple-A or whatever happens. I’ll just keep working hard and that is the best approach. I’ll keep grinding.
“Camp has been great, I feel great and have been healthy through camp. Been progressing each day. Been really good working with Broc and some of the veteran guys here that pick out stuff and talk to us about it. It’s been like an open, kind of just-say-what-you-want thing and work on stuff. It has really been a lot of fun.”
Yacabonis threw 64 2/3 innings in 2016, then 82 in 2017, and then 116 between the minors and majors last year. It sets him up to exceed that total this year if he is a starting pitcher at whatever level. And he has that flexibility to pitch in other roles, too.
Last year, throwing more innings meant more chances to work on his pitches.
“That and the extra work day, too, in between starts,” he said. “As a reliever, you may throw a touch and feel (bullpen session) if you didn’t pitch a lot that week. But as a starter, you get an extra work day to throw 25-40 pitches off the mound. Throwing those bullpens really helped me develop a routine and more of a feel for all my pitches. It was something I was able to take from the season and build on it over the offseason.”
The Orioles’ move toward heavy use of analytics and high-speed cameras might really help Yacabonis - a tall pitcher with active mechanics who is always looking for ways to better repeat his delivery.
Last month, he reported here to an O’s camp where young players are getting built up and filled with confidence by the coaching staff while supporting each other in the clubhouse.
“The young corps we have here, everyone is competing with each other and it’s been a lot of fun. They really encourage us,” he said. “When we do good things, it’s like, ‘Good job.’ They’ve really got your back. Mental errors are mental errors, but when you make a physical mistake and are giving a 100 percent effort, they know and have your back. That is reassuring and feels good to have them on your side. You are not out there worrying about trying to impress somebody. They tell us to pitch to our strengths. They are teaching us tools to get to our maximum potential.”
Yacabonis, who turned 27 yesterday, last year averaged 93.8 mph on his four-seam fastball, which he threw 63 percent of the time. He used his slider 32 percent and his changeup 5 percent.
He said he learned so much last season, through being on the Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle and pitching as a starter for the first time.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to back off pitches and hit spots rather than overthrowing the ball,” he said. “Like with a 0-2 or 1-2 count with the count in my favor, not try to do too much with a pitch and let it leak back over the plate. Or throwing a ball to ball, a non-competitive pitch.
“I’ve also learned how to slow the game down some. I was put into some situations I was never put into when I was a reliever, when starting last year. Maybe it was the fourth or fifth and you have to get out of the inning to save the bullpen that day. So it’s slow it down, don’t try to do too much, hit the spot and trust the action on the pitch.”