Yang 'comfortable and confident' in first start

Lefty racks up 8 strikeouts, gets big assist from King

May 6th, 2021

’s first MLB start was short, but it was not uneventful on Wednesday night at Target Field.

Yang, the Rangers' offseason signee from Korea, pitched 3 1/3 innings and gave up just one run in Texas’ 3-1 win over Minnesota. A second inning home run to Mitch Garver was the only blemish in his eight-strikeout outing.

Yang struck out the side to start the game. He said being able to strike out high-caliber hitters -- Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz -- allowed him to build his rhythm in a big way. But despite a solid first start, Yang gave himself just a 50 when he was asked to rate himself out of 100.

“Although I came down [well] early, I didn’t get to pitch as many innings as the starters do,” Yang explained. “Thankfully, the relievers finished the game with no more runs conceded, so I'm thankful for that. I felt really comfortable and confident on the mound, and I wasn't really nervous, so I would give half credit for myself.”

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said there's some “deception” to what Yang does on the mound, and that his lineup was trying to figure out things on the fly. Baldelli pointed specifically to Yang’s changeup, which contrasted well with his fastball.

Yang said the changeup was his go-to pitch in Korea, and he felt more comfortable using it instead of his slider.

“He’s a guy that still is pretty good against -- we think pretty good against -- right-handed hitters as well [as left],” Baldelli said. “[Yang is] a guy that probably comes from a little bit of a different arm angle and has a little funk to what he does, whether that’s timing or deception-wise. Any time you’re facing a guy you’re not familiar with, you’ve got to make an adjustment on it. But again, he’s a guy with a little sneakiness to his fastball and a good changeup.”

The Rangers' combination of Yang and reliever were able to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth inning. Yang gave up two hits and one walk to start the inning before getting Jorge Polanco swinging for his final out of the game. King then relieved Yang and forced two groundouts from Max Kepler and Miguel Sanó to get out of the frame unscathed.

King, who said he embraces coming in for high-leverage situations, allowed two hits and struck out three over 2 2/3 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.13. He’s been one of the Rangers’ best relievers in 2021, doing so in just his second Major League season.

With the Minor League season getting canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, King jumped both Double-A and Triple-A to make his Major League debut last season. He only pitched 10 1/3 innings in six games, posting a 6.10 ERA.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward said that unlike many players last season, the quarantine may have helped King a lot more, especially on the mental side of pitching in the Major Leagues.

“He's made a lot of adjustments, not just physically, with his windup and his glove,” Woodward said. “We cleaned all that up, but I think mentally, he was very high energy. He worked out too hard and he did a lot of things that were pretty aggressive. He really understands now how to control all that. You see that the adjustments he made out on the mound is pretty remarkable.”

King said earlier in the season that he switched to the third-base side of the mound, which helped a lot of his physical issues -- like when he was missing the zone arm-side. And mentally, he started a new meditation process with the Rangers’ mental skills coach, Mike Franco, to keep his mind centered on the game and the task at hand.

King said that trusting in himself has given him more confidence in those big situations while also keeping him composed on the mound.

“This has become like a daily thing, and it's really helped me coming out of the bullpen,” King said. “When I went from starter to a reliever, there's a little bit more anxiousness, like not knowing when you're gonna go in and then some bigger situations. So, it's really helped me calm myself and just compete.”