In that start he fired seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits and no walks while striking out a career-high 11 batters.
St. Lucie pitching coach Phil Regan told me he saw four things that Ynoa did particularly well that night:
- he had pinpoint control
- he had an outstanding changeup and he kept ’em off balance all night long.
- he had a great tempo (He’s been working hard at little different things like getting his rhythm going and maybe working a little faster in the ballgame…)
- he kept the ball down
“I would say not only that game, but the game before (May 31 against Daytona), after about three innings, his command really kicked in, and he really started throwing the ball like we really feel he could throw it,” Regan said. “That just carried over to the next game.”
In fairness, Ynoa has been really good for longer than two starts. He’s been dominant for a month now. In his last 32 innings, he’s worked to a 0.84 ERA with a 33/2 K/BB ratio.
This was a pretty major turnaround from his first month in the Florida State League for the 21-year-old.
|1st 6 Starts||30.67||6.16||.331||.375||.538||17||11||145||11.7||7.6|
|Last 5 Starts||32||0.84||.233||.246||.275||33||2||124||26.6||1.6|
Ynoa’s first-month struggles were a little surprising, considering the way he rolled through the South Atlantic League. Including the League playoffs, he ran a 2.57 ERA with a 19.3% strikeout rate against just a 3% walk rate.
In fact, that success bought him some latitude from Regan to start the year.
“They had such a great pitching staff last year with Savannah, coming into this April, you just kinda let him go and make sure they’re healthy and see how they did that,” he said. “But it really is a transition from Savannah to Port St. Lucie here.”
He elaborated, about the changes between a-ball and advanced-A, saying: “A lot of times, last year he threw mainly fastballs, changeups. The umpiring is probably not as good as what it is here. The hitters are a little bit better. So he was going the same thing, and he was getting hurt a lot of times with that because no longer could he just throw the fastball.”
Regan thinks the reason Ynoa had success over the last month is simple: he’s using all of his pitches and throwing his secondary pitches – his changeup, curveball and slider – behind in the count.
“He had to bring in his other pitches – his curveball and his slider,” Regan explained. “A lot of times when you’re behind in the count, you have to get a changeup over or a curveball over, or a breaking ball over, and he’s really started doing that. His control and command is so great that … instead of being a two-pitch pitcher, he’s gonna have four pitches now that he’s working with and commanding all of them.”
Ynoa has also tweaked his pitch mix this year. Last year, he worked primarily off his fastball (which was mostly 91-94 mph), his slider and his changeup. He showed a curveball in spring training and in April (see 1:43 of this video), and referenced it in an interview in May, 2013, but he rarely used it later in the year, while focusing on improving his slider and changeup. In April 2014, he did not throw his curve very much either. Now, he’s added the curve back into his repertoire, albeit in small quantities. Still Regan likes the curve to give batters another look, “It’s a little bigger break than the slider. He doesn’t use it a whole lot. More like on a first pitch, he’ll drop that curveball over and change the speeds on that breaking ball.”
Regan and Ynoa have also made a pair of other small adjustments to the pitcher’s motion, one to his hands and one to his feet. The two found that at the start of his delivery, “Early in the year, he had his hands low, we went back and looked at some films of him, and he had released his hands up a little higher than what he had been early in the year,” Regan said. So they worked to move his hands back up to match him up with his previous comfort spot from 2013. As for his feet, Regan and Ynoa changed the way his foot worked with the rubber: “instead of hooking on top of the rubber [with his foot and spikes on top], we made him move to the side of the rubber – parallel with the rubber now.” This should lead to better balance in his leg kick and delivery and a better platform to use when driving towards home plate before and during his release.
Ynoa is a smart pitcher, who scouts thought could have three Major League average pitches in his fastball, slider and changeup, but he’s hardly overpowering. He’s just well smart. As Regan puts it, about Ynoa, “Some people just have a knack for getting people out…. You have to know how to get a hitter out and” (through a chuckle) “he knows how to get a hitter out.”
The way that Ynoa has pitched in the last month leaves him with very little left to prove in advanced-A. However, St. Lucie is 1.5 games out of first with five to play in the first half. He is scheduled to throw Thursday in what could well be his final start before a promotion to double-A Binghamton, which is 6th in the 12-team Eastern League in ERA, and could use a boost in the rotation.