After Dominating The Minors, Karinchak Gets First Big League Test

When the Indians made their September callups this year, James Karinchak being among them was an easy choice. Karinchak got the call for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which was minor league-best 22 strikeouts per nine innings.

Karinchak struck out 74 batters in 30.1 innings across three levels—mostly Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus—which worked out to a 59-percent rate.

Karinchak’s statistics, both good and bad, preceded him to Cleveland. Minor league hitters batted .150 against him, but he also averaged roughly five walks per nine innings.

The 24-year-old right-hander was selected by the Indians in the ninth round of the 2017 draft, out of Bryant University. After a mediocre 10 appearances at short-season Mahoning Valley in 2017, Karinchak emerged in 2018. In a combined 42 appearances at low Class A Lake County, high Class A Lynchburg, and Akron, he was 4-2, 1.29, held opponents to a .177 batting average and averaged 15 strikeouts and 6.7 walks per nine innings.

His 2019 season was interrupted at midseason when he spent 2 1/2 months on the injured list with a strained hamstring. But in 17 appearances with Columbus he averaged 21.8 strikeouts per nine innings and held opposing hitters to a .204 batting average. Lefthanders hit just .118 against him.

In his first three appearances with the Indians, Karinchak was utilized in low-leverage situations. In those three appearances Karinchak pitched three innings, allowed one run on three hits with five strikeouts and no walks. More than anything, Karinchak’s callup was designed to give the big league staff a look at him against big league hitters, with an eye toward spring training 2020, when the 6-foot-3, 230-pound righthander could compete for a spot in the bullpen.

“His stuff is really good,” manager Terry Francona said. “We wanted to get him into situations where the game was not on the line. We knew coming in that things like fielding his position, holding runners, those are things he’s still learning, but his stuff is really good.”

The Indians’ bullpen this year lacked power arms, so Karinchak, who relies on a mid-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss curveball, will likely get a long look next spring.

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