Last night Ryan Yarbrough was called up to fill in the giant hole left in the rotation with the injury to Tyler Glasnow. Glasnow has been one of the best pitchers in baseball in the first quarter of the season posting a 1.86 ERA, 2.17 FIP, and 2.78 xFIP in his first eight starts.
Nobody was likely to repeat that performance (frankly, not even Glasnow, who was/is due some regression) but Yarbrough did his best.
Officially called up yesterday afternoon when Yandy Diaz was put on the Injured List, Yarbrough was able to get a good night’s rest in Cleveland while the rest of the team boarded a late flight after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in St. Petersburg.
And apparently that good night’s rest was effective, because Yarbrough had a great performance. He limited the Indians to two runs, but perhaps most striking to those of us who watch a lot of Rays baseball: He pitched into the eighth inning.
In contrast, you may recall, Kevin Cash had quite the quick hook in Wednesday’s game. Yonny Chirinos got in trouble in the sixth inning (after coming in at the end of the second); with one out Chirinos allowed the game tying homer off the bat of Max Muncy. Justin Turner followed with a single with the hottest hitter on the planet, Cody Bellinger, coming to the plate.
Chirinos had pitched a mere 3.2 innings but Cash clearly did not want him to face Bellinger with the game on the line. The offense ended up making that a no-doubt 8-1 victory, but that could not be foreseen as Cash used three pitchers to get out of a tense sixth inning.
Fast forward to Thursday night.
Yarbrough entered the day with a 8.10 ERA through 16.2 innings before being sent down to Durham to get back on track. Get back on track is exactly what he did. In four games and 21.0 innings he allowed a 2.14 ERA while striking out 35.7% of the batters he faced while limiting walks to 3.6%.
Outside of ERA the peripherals were similar to his 2018 season in the majors where he proved to be a very effective backend starter or bulk guy with a 3.91 ERA and 4.19 FIP in 147.1 innings.
Last night, Yarbrough was nearly flawless in the front five with a Jose Ramirez single in the second inning the only blemish on his record. Much like on Wednesday night, the sixth inning is where things got a little off track. The inning started with the 8 and 9 hitters coming to the plate before flipping the lineup to the third time through the order. Yarbrough recorded the first out before Oscar Mercado lined a single with Francisco Lindor coming up.
If Cash had been working from Wednesday’s script, then this is exactly the point at which a fresh arm would have been ready to take the mound. Instead, the bullpen phone remained silent.
Yarbrough ended up yielding two runs, but nonetheless got the Rays through the inning with a still-sizable 7-2 lead in tact.
Not only did Yarbrough end the inning with minimal damage, but he put the Indians down in order in the seventh. With 97 pitches on the night Yarbrough came out to start the eighth and retired Mike Freeman on an infield fly ball to the third baseman. Yarbrough’s night ended at 99 pitches and a career high 7.1 innings of work.
The takeaway? Cash is willing to give a starter/bulk guy some rope if he has been pitching efficiently and if the offense has given him some wiggle room. The fact that the bullpen had needed to pitch several innings the night before may have also influenced Cash’s choices, but no doubt had it been a close game, Yarbrough wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to get out of the sixth inning jam.
The strong offensive performance and Yarbrough’s ability to work efficiently through seven-plus innings last night will have implications for the coming days as well; the Rays will have a well-rested bullpen as they continue this difficult, no-off-day portion of their schedule.