Something was swirling around in the Ballpark at Arlington during Monday night’s matchup between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. And no, it wasn’t the baseballs being caught in the jet stream in right field or the ones being knocked down in left, but more like the passing whisper of “no-hitter.”
With Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in attendance — no stranger to no-hitters himself — the perfect stage was set for 26-year-old right-hander, Nathan Eovaldi, to make history in his native state.
Through six innings, Eovaldi looked like he was heading towards the same destiny that fellow Texan, Ryan, had achieved seven times in his 27-year playing career. Eovaldi’s split-finger fastball, which gained the right-hander the nickname “Nasty Nate” danced in and out of the strike zone, ultimately evading the Rangers’ bats for the majority of the game. Of the six strikeouts that Eovaldi recorded, five of them were via the splitter, and all six resulted in a swing and miss.
It wasn’t until the top of the seventh when Rangers right fielder, Nomar Mazara, singled through the left side of a shifted Yankees’ infield, that Eovaldi’s hitless streak would be broken. Although the flame-throwing right-hander was visibly upset after allowing the hit. Eovaldi’s performance on Monday, which resulted in a 3-1 Yankee victory, was anything but upsetting and is clear proof of the electric stuff that he possesses.
Eovaldi has long been known for his high octane fastball even before the Yankees obtained him from the Miami Marlins in the 2014-2015 offseason. Last year, Eovaldi owned the majors highest average fastball velocity at 96.6 mph according to fangraphs. However, even with a four-seam fastball that has reached 100 mph on occasion, Eovaldi still managed to lead the majors with 223 hits allowed in 2014. That alarming rate of hits allowed continued through the first half of the 2015 season, which saw Eovaldi give up 105 hits in 82.1 innings pitched from April to June.
However, that all changed when Eovaldi adjusted the grip of his splitter following a horrendous start on June 16, 2015, against his former team, the Marlins. The change was immediately noticeable. With regards to the new splitter, Yankee catcher, Brian McCann said, “Before it was more like a forkball. Now there’s amazing action on it.”
Just how amazing was the action on that splitter? According to Enos Saris of fangraphs, Eovaldi’s average splitter velocity increased from 85 mph to 89. The added depth and velocity of the splitter made anticipating Eovaldi’s high 90s fastball much more difficult for hitters. As a result, both Eovaldi’s groundball rate and strikeout rate increased in the second half of the season.
While Eovaldi had struggled through much of his first three starts this season, posting a combined 6.11 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and .292 BAA, the right-hander’s seven shutout innings on Monday night suggests that he may be getting back to being the pitcher that flourished in the second half of 2015.
It’s a sign the Yankees should be happy to see considering how starved they have been of quality starting pitching. And who knows, perhaps a no-hitter is still in Eovaldi’s future if he continues on this track going forward. For now, the 26-year-old is back to being “Nasty Nate” and back in the win column.
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