Yarbrough shines in quest to solidify rotation spot

July 8th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- Getting ready to face his own teammates in an empty stadium was all different for Ryan Yarbrough, who was one of the pitchers who threw multiple innings during Wednesday’s simulated game.

But once Yarbrough stepped on the mound, his focus quickly shifted to try and continue to make an impression and earn a permanent spot in Tampa Bay’s rotation. Wednesday’s simulated game was yet another positive audition for the lefty.

“I’ve had quite a few at-bats against Yarbs,” said Rays catcher Mike Zunino, who had three at-bats against Yarbrough on Wednesday. “He picked up right where he was last year. Moving the ball on both sides of the plate, increasing his repertoire and getting more comfortable with everything. For him, location is going to be the biggest thing, and right now, he’s repeating his delivery and he’s looking great.”

Yarbrough faced Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi and Zunino during Wednesday’s simulated game, and the left-hander looked sharp. He struck out three and allowed just one hit over 3 1/3 scoreless innings. While it’s just a sim game against his own teammates, having some success after a long layoff was a welcomed sight for Yarbrough and the Rays.

“It was great,” Yarbrough said. “It was nice because we had faced hitters, but it was either in a bullpen session or on the field. But it was nice to throw to a catcher instead of one of the bullpen guys. Plus having guys behind you just so you can get an idea of how everything is moving, how guys are making contact. It was definitely a step in the right direction and kind of just building up that way.”

After every outing during Spring Training, Yarbrough was asked about his role on the Rays’ pitching staff, and while repeatedly answering those questions could be an annoyance, the left-hander understands that the questions come due to what he’s been able to accomplish at the big league level.

In his first two full seasons, Yarbrough has been an integral part of the Rays’ success -- accumulating 27 wins in 66 appearances. While the win total is impressive, the versatility Yarbrough has shown during that time is perhaps even more notable.

Just last season, Yarbrough made 28 appearances, with 14 of them coming out of the bullpen as a “bulk guy.” The other 14 appearances were starts, which came at a key time for the team after losing Blake Snell, Yonny Chirinos and Tyler Glasnow to injuries.

“We don’t get where we were last year without Yarbrough’s performance,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He went on a pretty dominant run for six, seven or eight starts. He’s going to continue to get better. … He wants to go out and get outs and be efficient. He’s invaluable to us.”

Yarbrough’s ability to keep hitters off-balance, even without lighting up the radar gun, is what has led to his success. Last season, opposing hitters recorded an average exit velocity of 84.1 mph against Yarbrough, the lowest in the Majors among pitchers with at least 350 batted balls in play.

Over the next two weeks, Yarbrough will continue to get looks as a starter, and with Chirinos and Glasnow still not attending workouts due to undisclosed reasons, there’s an added chance that Yarbrough will begin the season as a starter.

Cash said Wednesday that while Yarbrough has earned a spot in the rotation, the club will continue to use each pitcher in the role they believe gives them the best chance to win. That could mean some starts for Yarbrough, but also some outings for him as a bulk guy. It remains to be seen what his role will end up being, but Yarbrough certainly continues to make his case.

“Like I said in Spring Training, and it’s still my goal right now, it’s just to continue to show them and prove to them that I could be a full-time starter,” Yarbrough said. “We have a couple of outings to continue to show that and prove to them that long term this is what I want to do and best help the team.

“Personally, I know I can help going deep into games, but it’s a 60-game season, so we’re just going to try and win every single ballgame. I know for me personally, I’m going to continue to work and try to prove to them every single day that I can start.”