Never mind all the fidgeting he does on the mound between pitches, the nervous pacing, talking to himself, flipping the baseball back and forth between his hand and glove. What stood out most about Indians rookie reliever James Karinchak were his numbers.
In 27 appearances Karinchak recorded a 2.67 ERA while striking out 53 and walking 16 in 27 innings. He notched one save. His strikeout rate of 17.7 per nine innings tied fellow rookie Devin Williams for highest among relievers.
The 6-foot-3 righthander struck out a shade less than 49% of batters faced, though his walk rate of 5.3 per nine innings pushed his WHIP to 1.11.
At one point Karinchak whiffed at least two batters in eight consecutive appearances, the longest such streak by an Indians reliever in 24 years.
He did so as a two-pitch pitcher who delivers the ball straight over the top. He befuddled hitters with either his mid-90s fastball or a hammer 12-to-6 curveball.
“One thing about James, he’s an unbelievable worker,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said. “He works as hard as any pitcher we have. In fact, we’ve had to try to reign him in with his work, to make sure he was being productive with his work and not counter-productive.”
During one late-August slump, Karinchak allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in 2.1 innings.
“It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to come up (from the minors) and be dominate from day one and stay dominant,” Antonetti said. “He just fell into some bad habits mechanically. The game will continue to be a series of adjustments for James.”
Karinchak’s next major adjustment could potentially happen next year. Indians closer Brad Hand’s contract expires at the end of the 2020 season. The Indians hold a $10 million club option for 2021, but if they decline it, Karinchak would be the heir apparent.
The Indians drafted Karinchak in the ninth round in 2017 out of Bryant. Two years later he reached the big leagues with a five-appearance September cameo.
In 2020 he became a key member of the bullpen.