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What Chance Adams showed the Yankees in his MLB debut

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The young right-hander flashed some interesting signs in his first major-league start.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

With the Yankees in a bit of a tailspin and grappling with a rash of injuries and ineffectiveness in their rotation, they were forced to turn to an unproven rookie to make his MLB debut at Fenway Park. Chance Adams, one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects, ended up holding his own, spinning five innings of three-run ball against the Red Sox on Saturday.

It was only one start, and with J.A. Happ slated to come off the disabled list this week, this will likely be Adams’ only appearance before being sent back down to Triple-A. There are no hard conclusions to be drawn from a lone outing, but Adams still provided plenty to think about in his first major-league game.

The main question Adams had to answer as he made his debut was regarding his fastball velocity. Adams rose through the ranks of the Yankees’ farm system on the strength of a fastball that continually added velocity, to the point that scouting reports had him pumping consistent mid-90’s four-seamers, with the ability to touch 97 or 98 mph on occasion.

That velocity seemingly evaporated early this season, as Adams went through the toughest stretch of his professional career. Adams was lit up to the tune of a 5.67 ERA over his first seven starts in the minors this year, and not coincidentally, his fastball speed was way down. MLB Pipeline dropped Adams to number 13 on their list of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects, citing this loss in velocity:

Adams had offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and has operated at 91-93 in 2018. His slider has lost a couple of ticks of velocity as well and isn’t as sharp as it has been in the past.

Adams had been performing better in the time before his promotion, so it seemed possible that Adams was regaining some strength and zip on his fastball. For much of his debut, that appeared to be the case. For the first four innings on Saturday, Adams was rock solid on the radar gun. He was consistently sitting at 93 or 94 mph on his four-seamer as he progressed through the Boston lineup in the early going.

That velocity didn’t quite last, however. According to Baseball Savant, Adams last fastball of the fourth inning clocked in at 93.3 mph. His first of the fifth inning came in at 91.7 mph. He induced a fly out from Brock Holt on a 90.8 mph heater. After cruising with solid velocity through the first four innings, Adams clearly appeared to tire in the fifth.

So while Adams’ fastball looked solid early on, he might need to continue to add strength in order to turn over a lineup a third time. Unsurprisingly, Adams was pulled after facing exactly 18 batters.

Also interesting was Adams’ heavy reliance on his fastball. Of his 83 pitches, 60 of them were classified as fastballs by Statcast. He used his curveball 18 times, and his slider just four times. Perhaps that is a quirk of Statcast’s classification system, but it did seem as though Adams was avoiding using his slider. That is odd, given that most scouts cited Adams’ slider as his best out pitch, with his curveball profiling as more of an average offering.

Adams may have leaned off of his slider because Mitch Moreland took him deep in the first inning off a slider that hung right over the plate. Still, even with an over-reliance on his fastball that runs counter to the Yankees’ typical philosophy of emphasizing breaking pitches, Adams mostly was able to minimize hard contact against Boston. The average batted ball against Adams left the bat at 83 mph, as the two homers Adams allowed were his primary mistakes.

That being said, Adams’ repeated use of his fastball meant that he rarely missed bats. In fact, the Red Sox swung and missed just three times all afternoon. In all, Adams’ fastball reliance produced a mixed bag; he was able to stay in the strike zone and limit walks, but his good-not-great velocity means he can only generate so many whiffs, with opposing hitters instead producing a steady stream of batted balls.

On the whole, Adams flashed both promise and flaws in his debut. He held promising velocity for the first four innings before beginning to tire, though the control problems that propped up earlier in the year in minors weren’t apparent on Saturday. His reliance on his fastball didn’t bite up him, but his lack of breaking pitches implied some room for growth. The Yankees were probably pleased overall by his performance in a tough spot, and he showed enough to be considered a spot starter again if the need arises down the stretch.