While toeing the rubber on February 28th and throwing the first pitch of 2021 for the New York Yankees, Michael King had mixed results. He threw some good secondary pitches — a key next step in his development — to the Toronto Blue Jays‘ batters, but he also struggled with command.
35 days later was the opposite. Tasked with bridging the gap after Domingo German lasted three innings against the same Blue Jays, King’s stat line reads like one of a dominant start, if dominant starts began in the fourth inning. Although the Yankees’ offense laid dormant, King’s efforts kept the team in the game, and gave them a shot at a comeback before losing 3-1.
In six innings pitched, King threw 68 pitches, allowing one walk and one hit, with no runs allowed. He retired the final 16 batters he faced.
“I ended up just kind of attacking the zone,” King said via Zoom after the game. “…I was able to just kind of get ahead in the count and get in the dugout as fast as I could so it was good.”
For King, Sunday was a combination of facing hitters he has seen plenty of in the minor leagues and a culmination of refined mechanics and approach.
A big smile spread across King’s face as he talked about his familiarity with the Blue Jays’ hitters. Their young core came up through MiLB together and their development coincided with King’s.
In fact, one of the best starts of his MiLB career came in Double-A when he faced the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Blue Jays’ affiliate. On June 30th, 2018, King struck out 11 while throwing a complete game shutout. Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette combined to go 0-6 with four strikeouts in that game.
The experience facing them helped him form a good plan of attack as he entered the game.
“I faced the Blue Jays a lot, all those younger guys in the minor leagues a lot, so I’ve seen them a lot,” King said. “We had a pretty good game plan going into it, and I was able to take the confidence I had in Spring Training over and into the season.”
Still, familiarity alone can not cause a pitcher to retire 16 consecutive batters. The organization has been high on King’s potential, and he illustrated why on Sunday. At times in 2020, the former organization MiLB pitcher of the year looked like a Quadruple-A pitcher, at best.
The reason for that stems from an injury that hurt his development in 2019. Once he was healthy, his mechanics were thrown off and his mindset faltered as a result. After working hard to correct both, he felt everything sync up sporadically but not consistently in 2020. In fact, he admits that first Spring Training start against the Blue Jays was a start where he got out of his mechanics and mindset.
On Sunday, it looked like more of the same when he walked Randal Grichuk on four pitches and gave up a Joe Panik single immediately upon entering the game. After that, everything clicked.
The Michael King who retired 18/21 batters faced is the pitcher the Yankees hope to get on a consistent basis.
With his mechanics in tact, he did an excellent job of mixing his sinker and cutter to induce weak contact. The two pitches resulted in 16 balls put in play with average exit velocities for each pitch under 80 mph. The cutter, which is more of a slider, cutter hybrid, has enhanced his arsenal.
“Last year I always struggled with making my slider,” King said. “It was too slow. Throwing the cutter helped bring the velo back.”
The addition of another quality pitch deepens his arsenal and helps him develop good game plans, helping with his mindset on the mound.
Sunday was one outing. King views it as a six of the 100 innings he needs to reach his personal goal to feel he contributed to the team. If he keeps pitching as he did on Sunday — with good mechanics, a good game plan, and good execution — he will likely have no trouble reaching that 100-inning plateau in 2021.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images