Jordan Yamamoto had something to prove in his final start of the season, and his manager knew it. Before the game, Marlins manager Don Mattingly talked about his rookie, whose first season has been plagued with inconsistency.
“This game teaches you quickly at this level what he needs to work on and what he needs to get better at,” Mattingly said, adding that sooner or later, the team will need to start seeing results from all its young players.
Thursday was just one game, but in the Marlins’ 4-2 win over the Mets, Yamamoto turned in arguably the best start of his career. He went six shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out a personal-best 10 batters.
It was the first time since July 5 that Yamamoto has given up fewer than two runs, and even though he walked three, two of them came in the first inning. After a year of peaks and valleys, Yamamoto can head into the winter on the highest note he could have hoped for.
Yamamoto isn’t overpowering, topping out with his fastball around 93 mph, but he combines it with a good curveball and changeup. If he can locate his pitches, he can succeed.
His rookie season started off strong with back-to-back seven-inning shutout performances against the Cardinals in June. In Yamamoto’s first six games, he pitched to a 1.59 ERA, held batters to a .134 average and went 4-0. Then it started to unravel. In his next seven starts, he had an ERA of over 8.00 and failed to reach five innings three times.
On Aug. 28, the Marlins placed him on the injured list with a right forearm strain. The 23-year-old nearly doubled his innings output from 2018, and with the Marlins toiling in last place in the National League East, it may have made sense to shut the righty down until spring.
Then he came off the IL with an uneven but ultimately solid outing against the Nationals on Sept. 21 (4 1/3 innings, two earned runs, six hits and three walks) and followed that up with Thursday’s gem.
“We talked about Jordan, getting him back, showing health, and having a regular winter so he comes back ready to go,” Mattingly said. “This is just another chance for him to be able to gain experience and be able to come into spring training in a competitive environment.”
Jorge Alfaro, who had Thursday off but caught Yamamoto eight times this year, stressed the rookie’s competitive nature.
“He’s not afraid to compete,” Alfaro said. “He’s had a plan every time, he’s started to stick to the plan, and I think he’s doing good.”
Thursday was the best he has looked since he came up. Take his three strikeouts of Mets slugger Pete Alonso as an example. Alonso has a league-leading 51 home runs, but in his last at-bat against Yamamoto, he waived early at a first-pitch curveball and was caught looking at a fastball for strike three. It was representative of a night where Yamamoto seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
Yamamoto is the youngest pitcher on a young Marlins team, and there will be expectations on him moving forward. He came to Miami as part of the Christian Yelich trade and to this point has shown the most promise of any of the four prospects the Marlins got in the deal.
“You’re going to have good days and bad days,” Alfaro said. “But it depends on him if he learns from his experience, gets that feeling back and is working to get better.”
Alfaro said the same goes for the rest of the young roster. From here, it’s on to Philadelphia to close out the year. Yamamoto won’t pitch, but it’ll be another chance for the rest of the roster to take one step closer to 2020.