Coming off a breakout rookie campaign, James Kaprielian has gone through a bit of a sophomore slump in his second full big league season. His most recent outing, however, leads him to believe that he’s finally getting back on track.
Limiting the Mariners to two runs on five hits and two walks with a season-high seven strikeouts across 5 1/3 innings Tuesday night, Kaprielian dubbed the performance his “best outing of the year” so far.
“Today was the best it’s been,” Kaprielian said Tuesday. “I had some good swing and miss. I just felt like myself out there. I got beat a couple of times, but I’m going to leave this one on a positive note and take what I can.”
Frustrated by a rough previous start in Boston where he was tagged for a season-high five earned runs, Kaprielian collaborated with a couple of resources to determine what he needed to fix. It started one day after that Boston outing by linking up with Red Sox pitcher Nathan Eovaldi -- who served as somewhat of a mentor for Kaprielian while both were members of the Yankees' organization from 2015-16 -- for a pregame conversation at Fenway Park.
The night before his start against Seattle, Kaprielian reached out to fellow rotation mate Paul Blackburn, who pointed out flaws in his mechanics that were causing his front side to fly out, leading to his recent inability to throw strikes consistently.
“I actually talked to Eovaldi for about 25 minutes,” Kaprielian said. “He kind of took me under his wing. I got some advice from him. Then chatting with Paul over text and watching some film. I think we kind of just discovered a couple of things with my hands and where they were breaking. It just allowed me to be on time.”
A couple of things stood out from Kaprielian’s outing on Tuesday. For one, he threw his slider 38 times, same as his fastball. The right-hander had heavily relied on the four-seamer in his three outings prior, almost abandoning his secondary pitches. Utilizing the slider clearly was a good decision, as Kaprielian matched a career-high 10 whiffs (swing and misses) with the offering and used it as the putaway pitch on six of his seven strikeouts.
Another notable change was Kaprielian’s uptick in velocity. His fastball velocities of 96.9 and 96.5 in the first inning against Seattle were the two fastest pitches he’s thrown all season. Overall, the heater averaged 94.2 mph, slightly above his season average velocity of 93.7 mph.
For Kaprielian, both positive developments were attributed to his timing. Correcting that mechanical issue is the key to getting back on track. Sitting with a 5.98 ERA on the year, should Kaprielian find himself on a roll going forward, he’ll look back at Tuesday night’s start as the game that sparked his turnaround.
“It’s all timing,” Kaprielian said. “When my fastball is on time, everything else plays up. I’m able to get extension and get the right spin and be on top of the ball. Things are breaking the way they should. It’s not a mental or stuff thing. It’s just, if I can do my best to be on time, my stuff plays the way it should. It makes it a lot easier to pitch when you’re on time and not fighting yourself. That’s been the work and I continue to work on it.”