Marlins’ Jordan Yamamoto explains first MLB start
If Jordan Yamamoto had any nerves heading into his first career MLB start, he didn’t show it.
The 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, one of four prospects the Miami Marlins obtained in the Christian Yelich trade in January 2018, dazzled over seven shutout innings in the Marlins’ 9-0 win against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday. It gave the Marlins their first win of their nine-game homestand after being swept by the Atlanta Braves and losing the first two to the Cardinals.
Yamamoto’s final line: Three hits and two walks while striking out five. He also drove in a run with a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning. He is is the third Marlins pitcher to throw seven shutout innings in his MLB debut, joining Dillon Peters and Justin Nicolino.
“At first, I was really nervous,” said Yamamoto, who had pitched exclusively with the Marlins’ Double A affiliate in Jacksonville before his start on Wednesday. “I was sweating all day, but once I got that first guy out, it all kind of calmed down and was like ‘OK. Let’s go.’”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly said pregame the Marlins had a simple plan for Yamamoto.
“Just pitch well,” he said.
Yamamoto, the Marlins’ No. 17 overall prospect from Kailua, Hawaii, who earned the start after the Marlins (24-42) placed Jose Urena on the 10-day Injured list with back tightness, did just that.
He needed just eight pitches to get through a perfect first inning and was only at 18 total through his first two. He closed the second inning with his first strikeout, getting Kolten Wong to swing and miss on an 81.3 mph change-up. The “Hawaii Five-0” theme song played throughout Marlins Park as he walked back to the dugout.
Yamamoto retired seven consecutive batters to start the game before giving up a full-count walk to Harrison Bader in the third. His first hit allowed didn’t come until the fourth when he gave up a leadoff double to Paul DeJong followed immediately by a single to Paul Goldschmidt to put runners on the corners with no outs.
No worries. He got Marcell Ozuna to fly out to shallow left field to keep DeJong at third. Yadier Molina grounded into a double play on the next at-bat to strand both runners. He threw three more innings before exiting the game.
“He’s a pretty chill kid,” Mattingly said.
Yamamoto finished with 95 pitches, 61 of which went for strikes. His fastball topped out at 93.9 mph and he effectively mixed in a cutter that stayed between 84 and 88 mph, a slider that went from 76 to 88 mph, a curveball that stayed steadily in the mid 70s and a low 80s change-up.
“He’s an add and subtract guy,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy that the timing is never the same too often. He changes speeds with his fastball. He changes speeds with his breaking ball. He throws his change-up to both sides of the plate. Throws up. Throws down. That’s not a common approach for guys nowadays.”
Yamamoto also had plenty of support from his offense and defense.
Garrett Cooper had three hits — including a second-inning grand slam — and came a double shy of hitting the first cycle in Marlins franchise history. Curtis Granderson hit a three-run home run. Brian Anderson and Miguel Rojas both also had two hits.
The Marlins infield also turned three double plays, and Rojas made a tough play on a hard-hit ground ball from Ozuna for the first out in the second inning.
Nick and Anderson and Tayron Guerrero threw two innings of relief to end the game.
Yamamoto’s start tested the Marlins’ starting pitching depth for the second consecutive day after the team went an MLB-best 64 games into the season with just five starters.
On Tuesday, it was Elieser Hernandez making a spot start in place of Caleb Smith, who went on the IL with left-hip inflammation. Hernandez threw 5 2/3 innings in the 7-1 loss, giving up three earned runs on five hits, a walk and a hit by pitch while striking out seven batters. He’ll likely start again on Monday when the Marlins face the Cardinals in St. Louis to start a seven-game road trip.
“It’s still coming,” Mattingly said. “You see the layers of pitching all the way through, so I think pitching right now, we feel like we have some [depth].”
Eleven of the Marlins’ top-30 prospects according to MLBPipeline are pegged by the organization as starting pitchers and are scattered throughout the team’s three highest minor-league organizations.
Nick Neidert (No. 4) and Zac Gallen (No. 18) are in Triple A New Orleans, as is Hernandez, who is not eligible to be rated as a prospect after spending the 2018 season in the big leagues as a Rule 5 draft selection.
Yamamoto, Sixto Sanchez (No. 1), Jorge Guzman (No. 9) and Robert Dugger (No. 22) are all part of the Double A rotation.
All five starters in Class A advanced Jupiter — Braxton Garrett (No. 7), Edward Cabrera (No. 8), Jordan Holloway (No. 13), Trevor Rogers (No. 15) and Will Stewart (No. 21) — are included as well.
And that doesn’t include the starting rotation at the major-league level, which has seen great strides from Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Richards over the last month. All three have each put up sub-2.00 ERAs and held opponents to under a .185 batting average over their last five starts.
Marlins starting pitchers had a 3.89 ERA heading into Wednesday, which ranked fifth in the National league and eighth overall.