Last year Nathan Eovaldi came to the Yankees with a live arm but nothing to show for it to that point in his career. At just 25 years old and already joining his third big league club, the Yankees were hoping that Larry Rothschild could play Obi-Wan Kenobi to Eovaldi's Luke Skywalker. With the ability to hit 100+ on the radar gun, the Force was clearly strong with Nate, he just needed to harness it. The lessons must have paid off because he won a career high 14 games and was a dominant starter for a two-month stretch last summer before an elbow injury ended his season early.
The secret to his success was the split-finger fastball, which he began using for the first time in 2015. Compared to his early career, he significantly reduced usage of the four seam fastball and all but eliminated the two seamer from his repertoire. With no real changeup to speak of in his bag of tricks, the splitter became his off-speed offering which was used to great effect. The Yankees liked what they saw and expected more of the same in 2016, as evidenced by their stagnancy when it came to the starting rotation this past winter.
In Nate's 2016 debut this past Thursday the Yankees got the win, but his pitching line was unimpressive to say the least. Over just five innings he surrendered six hits including two home runs for a total of five earned runs on the day. However, a deeper dive reveals that he was much better than what that line suggests.
He did show great command as he struck out seven batters while walking none over the course of his five innings. He was also bringing some serious heat on a cool, cloudy day in April. His average fastball clocked in at over 97 MPH and his splitter hit 90 more often than not. Even more promising, though, is that he appears to have gone all in with that splitter.
That pitch was thrown more than twice as often as it was in his average start in 2015, which means his slider and curve, historically far less effective pitches for him, were used sparingly. It's no coincidence, then, that his first strike percentage for the game was more than 15% higher than his career norm and that about 12% of his pitches went for swinging strikes compared to an 8% career mark.
The only true blemish for Eovaldi in this game was a forgettable second inning in which he gave up back to back home runs to the bottom of the Astros' lineup. Throwing as hard as he does, he's bound to give up his share of long balls. However, logic suggests this risk should be mitigated by his ever increasing use of the splitter which is designed to keep the ball on the ground. If he sticks to this game plan, Nate can be great in 2016.