In optioning right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday, the Orioles did so with the intent of stretching him out to potentially become a starting pitcher.
Yacabonis had a strong spring training, posting a 3.38 ERA (three earned runs over eight innings) and more importantly refined his mechanics to take stress off his throwing shoulder, which gives the Orioles optimism that he has starting potential.
After pitching all one-inning outings this spring, Yacabonis will open the season at Triple-A Norfolk with the assignment of pitching multiple innings.
“Yac is going to take some extended innings,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it starting, but you could construe it as that. We’ve got some people who would like to see him potentially start. I think as you get him extended innings, as he’s gotten more in line with his delivery and taken less stress [in] his shoulder.”
It’s a path similar to the one the Orioles have made for hard-throwing left-hander Tanner Scott, who was also optioned to Norfolk on Thursday.
Yacabonis averaged 6.1 walks per nine innings in his 20 major league relief innings while posting a 4.35 ERA last season and has recorded 4.6 walks per nine innings over his minor league career, so control has been his biggest obstacle. This spring he walked five in eight innings, but Showalter was encouraged by the fact that most of Yacabonis’ misses were down in the strike zone.
“One of his points of emphasis for us and him coming into spring was really working down a lot and the counts, getting [them] more in his favor and getting more early contact for outs, and he’s done that this spring for the most part,” Showalter said.
“You look back at most of his misses and most of them have been down instead of a lot of those high scuds that were balls right out his hand. The changeup has really come along, so there’s some debate back and forth. We’d like to go down the road starting some.”
The only downside to stretching out Yacabonis would be if he starts to pitch three to four innings in Triple-A, he’d be less available to ride the shuttle to Baltimore when the Orioles need bullpen reinforcements.
Scott is expected to continue to start at Norfolk with three-inning outings despite the fact that he was used as a one-inning reliever throughout spring training.
Scott allowed three earned runs in seven Grapefruit League innings, striking out seven and walking two.