DURHAM, N.C.—Despite having the minor leagues’ top two strikeout artists in righthanders Brent Honeywell and Jacob Faria—the Rays’ No. 2 and 8 prospect, respectively—Durham’s bullpen has been taxed all season long. By manager Jared Sandberg‘s estimation, relievers have thrown more than half of the team’s innings this year.
So it came as no small relief on Saturday evening when one of the Bulls’ newcomers—righthander Yonny Chirinos—was just the right combination of efficient and effective required to fire a shutout on just 100 pitches against the Toledo Mud Hens.
“They’ve pitched 50-plus percent of the innings this year,” he said. “The bullpen’s definitely taxed, and (Sunday’s) a bullpen day. Chirinos really stepped up tonight. That was an impressive effort. He kept the ball on the ground, he pounded the strike zone and maintained his stuff throughout the outing.”
Chirinos, a 23-year-old righthander the Rays signed out of Venezuela in 2012, used a mix of four- and two-seam fastballs, as well as a changeup and a slider each thrown in the low- to mid-80s. His four-seam fastball showed impressive cut life, and his changeup had excellent fade at times. More effective than his arsenal, however, was his unflinching willingness to pound the strike zone from the first inning through the ninth.
“His fastballs were there, and his slider’s getting really good now as far as him making some adjustments,” Sandberg said. “He just trusts his stuff. He pitched to contact. It’s a little bit different look than what some of the other pitchers in our rotation give us, as far as the swing-and-miss and the high strikeouts. Yonny’s just trying to put the ball on the ground and pitch to contact.”
Of Chirinos’ 100 pitches, 66 were strikes. He struck out nine—which tied a career-high—and walked just two. He allowed three hits all night, singles to Alex Presley and JaCoby Jones and a double to Efren Navarro, but otherwise kept the Mud Hens at bay.
Even before he got to the mound, Chirinos knew he had the stuff to put together a special evening.
“When I started throwing bullpen I started feeling good,” he said, with the help of shortstop Willy Adames as a translator. “Inning by inning, I started feeling better.”
Chirinos knew, too, that his team needed innings from its starters. Durham has had two extra-inning games this homestand, including one that saw three position players forced to the mound, and lost a reliever before the game when flamethrowing closer Ryne Stanek was promoted to Tampa Bay.
Sandberg realized a complete game was possible after the sixth inning, and Chirinos could smell the finish line too.
“I wanted it so badly,” Chirinos said, “because it was my first one, the first shutout in my career. I just tried to finish every inning and just keep getting farther and farther into the game.”
Chirinos might not get the publicity as some of the big names in the Durham rotation, but on Saturday night he was as effective as any of them.