PHILADELPHIA -- Miguel Yajure waited more than four months for another opportunity like the one he got on Friday night -- and that built-up anticipation was evident when he first toed the rubber at Citizens Bank Park.
The 23-year-old right-hander began his relief outing against the Phillies -- his first big league appearance since May 14 -- by immediately uncorking what would be his two fastest pitches of the night. Though Yajure's night started with a perfect eight-pitch second inning, the rest of his outing didn't go quite as smoothly in the Pirates' 8-6 loss.
“It feels really good,” Yajure said of making his return to the big leagues after spending all of June and July on the injured list. “After those couple months being out of the big leagues, I was feeling really confident -- more than I thought. And it was really good.”
Yajure, who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to the game, took over to start the bottom of the second inning after opener Sam Howard tossed a perfect first. Yajure picked up right where Howard left off, promptly retiring J.T. Realmuto, Brad Miller and Andrew McCutchen. The first two pitches to Realmuto registered at 91.9 mph and 92.1 mph, respectively -- the fastest of Yajure's 72 offerings.
He then retired each of the first two hitters in the third before finally running into some trouble -- against, of all players, opposing starter Kyle Gibson. Locked in a 2-2 count, Yajure served up an 88.6 mph fastball down the middle of the plate, and Gibson made him pay by connecting for his first career home run.
The Pirates' No. 24 prospect then allowed a two-out single and walked Jean Segura before escaping further damage by getting Bryce Harper to line out on a 112.1 mph scorcher hit directly at center fielder Bryan Reynolds. Yajure yielded another homer in the fourth -- this one on a 90 mph fastball to Brad Miller. A third run scored in the fifth, when Harper laced a 111.8 mph liner into right field for an RBI double on a ball that Yoshi Tsutsugo couldn't reel in. Yajure's night came to an end after he plunked Realmuto with the next pitch.
All told, the righty allowed three runs off five hits, two walks and a hit batter while striking out two over 3 2/3 innings.
“It was great to see him pitch today,” Wilmer Difo, who hit a pinch-hit two-run homer to give the Pirates a 6-5 lead in the seventh, said via a translator. “What I see in him is a young guy with really good stuff who's just getting more experience. One of the things I love most about Miguel is he's confident. He's confident and he goes out there and he has a plan.”
Yajure's start was, in many ways, emblematic of his 2021 season. There were flashes of his potential -- like the eight-pitch inning and two strikeouts -- as well as some things he probably wishes played out differently. The home run to Gibson likely tops the list, though that was far from the only hard contact allowed by Yajure. In fact, the Phillies recorded eight hard-hit balls (exit velocity of at least 95 mph) off the righty.
Prior to Friday, the last time Yajure was in a Pirates uniform came when he was stifling the MLB-leading Giants by holding them to one hit over five scoreless innings in a May 14 spot start. He likely would have made some more of those over the last few months had he not landed on the 60-day injured list with right forearm discomfort that cost him all of June and July.
Despite starting the night with two pitches hovering around 92 mph, Yajure averaged 90.1 mph on his four-seamer against the Phillies -- down slightly from 91.2 mph in that May 14 start.
"The velo is a little bit down right now, and I'm trying to get it back,” Yajure said. “But I feel like I can get better with command and velo."
Manager Derek Shelton, meanwhile, said he’s confident that the velocity will come back “in time,” given the lengthy layoff Yajure had in the middle of the season.
As for what’s next, Yajure likely has time for one more appearance this season, though it remains to be seen whether that will be as a starter or following an opener as he did on Friday. Either way, he hopes to continue building toward potentially earning a rotation spot in 2022.
“I just want to learn from every outing, keep getting better in everything that I need to be better,” Yajure said. “Keep competing and finish healthy. That's my goal right now.”