2020 second-rounder gives others sinking feeling in Fall League

October 20th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The last time threw five innings in a start was Aug. 20, 2021 for Toronto's High-A affiliate Vancouver. That was 789 days ago. Not that he’s been counting. No, really.

“That long?” he said. “I didn’t even realize.”

The distance between outings made Thursday's Arizona Fall League gem all the sweeter.

The Blue Jays right-hander allowed one hit, struck out five and and didn’t walk a batter over five innings to help Surprise defeat Scottsdale, 5-0, at Surprise Stadium. Van Eyk needed only 52 pitches to get through the outing, throwing 36 strikes and eliciting eight whiffs along the way while retiring the first 11 Scorpions he faced.

The 2020 second-rounder out of Florida State is in the AFL in the first place to make up for time lost due to Tommy John surgery. The elbow procedure knocked him for the entire 2022 season, and despite returning to the mound in May, he dealt with complications along the way that limited him to 12 appearances (34 2/3 innings) this year between the Rookie-level Florida Complex, Single-A Florida State and Double-A Eastern Leagues.

“It was definitely a rocky road through rehab down in Dunedin,” Van Eyk said. “But I’m making it back and making it back healthy. I’m out here with these guys. This team is fun. We’re going to try to keep it going.”

From a stuff perspective, the 6-foot-1 hurler was sitting 92-94 mph and touching 96 as late as his final frame. But interestingly, he continued to work in a sinker on top of his more traditional four-seamer – a trend that began before he arrived in Arizona.

“Back at the complex before we came out here, facing Will [Robertson] and Dasan [Brown], my four-seam wasn’t playing well, so our pitching coordinator [Cory Popham] said, ‘Hey, why don’t you throw a sinker one time,'” Van Eyk said. “I threw it and it did what it was supposed to do, so now we’re out here playing with that too.”

Van Eyk added that he particularly likes the two-seamer working in against fellow righties, and notably seven of his 10 batted balls in play came on the ground Thursday. He also kept Scorpions hitters off guard with a mid-80s slider, a low-80s mph changeup and a curveball right around the 80 mph mark.

Thanks to that full four-pitch mix, the Florida native sports a 0.79 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP with nine strikeouts through three appearances (11 1/3 innings) for Surprise, but his latest outing marked his first one of the campaign without a walk. He had issued six free passes over 6 1/3 innings in his two previous outings, both in relief.

“Honestly, I’m trying to get my front leg a little stronger instead of falling off,” Van Eyk said. “The mechanics are a work in progress too. We were just clicking on all cylinders tonight.”

That was most evident in Van Eyk’s final frame. On his 60-pitch limit in the desert, the Blue Jays hurler was approached by Surprise pitching coach Austin Bibens-Dirkx -- also of the Toronto organization -- and was told he was on 44 heading into the fifth, meaning he had 16 pitches to play with. He needed only eight to retire Caleb Ricketts, Trey Lipscomb and Jimmy Crooks in order -- all on groundouts.

While Van Eyk may be limited in each of his appearances moving forward with Surprise, the righty added that he’s planning on keeping his momentum going through the remainder of the AFL season and won’t be cut off before Surprise’s final regular-season game on Nov. 9 or (considering the club’s 9-7 record) perhaps beyond.

“Hopefully the Sags get a ring,” he said, “and I’ll be here the whole time.”

Cameron Cauley (TEX No. 13) clubbed his first two homers of the Fall League. The first traveled an estimated 441 feet to dead center in the second, and the second went an estimated 427 feet the opposite way to right-center in the eighth. Eric Brown Jr. (Brewers) and Austin Callahan (Reds) added two hits apiece for Surprise.