Yankees notes: Michael King's 'big boy' velo, Anthony Rizzo's painful milestone and more (2022)

Michael King felt a fastball “explode” from his hand Sunday afternoon while facing Alex Bregman of the Astros. He turned around to check his velocity on the Yankees’ scoreboard. At the top of the screen, it flashed 100.3 mph.

“When I saw 100, I was like, ‘Oh baby, that’s big boy stuff,’” King said.

In the dugout, pitching coach Matt Blake thought, “are the radar guns running hot?”

King threw the three fastest pitches of his career in the plate appearance against Bregman, though he walked him on seven pitches. The radar gun was not hot. King had thrown 100.3, 99.2 and 98.8 mph on three consecutive pitches. The triple-digit heater was off the plate for a ball, but it signaled a new milestone for King.

In 2020, when King pitched 26 2/3 innings for the Yankees, his four-seam and two-seam fastballs averaged 93 miles per hour. He made four starts in nine appearances that season. In 2021, he made 22 appearances, six of which were as a starter. He threw more than half of his innings last season as a reliever, with his two-seam ticking up to an average of 94 mph and his four-seam averaging 95 mph.

This season, King’s sinker is averaging 95.4 mph. His four-seam averages 96.3 mph. Entering Tuesday, he had thrown 604 total pitches in 2022 — 64 of them were 97 mph or faster.

King said the reasons for his increased velocity are simple: He was moved to the bullpen full-time, allowing him to exert more effort on each pitch he throws. As his body adjusts to that level of effort, it builds stamina and allows him to throw even harder. He is, essentially, increasing the floor of his velocity, which allows the ceiling to be higher.

“There’s a saying that’s like, you train fast, you get fast results. I have seen guys have decent velocity increasing without changing their mechanics or putting on a bunch of weight or whatever, and it seems to be from throwing harder as often as possible,” King said Tuesday. “As a starter, I found a pace that worked for me. I could go 100 pitches and maintain my velocity that whole time. On my good days, I’d sit at like 95, 96. On my average days, it was 92, 93.”

King said he hasn’t felt any irregular soreness as his velocity has climbed, and that he hasn’t changed his training program to throw harder.

Blake, who worked as a Northeast area scout for the Yankees when King was in high school in Rhode Island, said he was throwing 85-88 mph as a teenager. At Boston College, Blake said he remembers King throwing 88-91 mph. King has also trained with Eric Cressey, now the Yankees’ director of player health and performance, since he was 14 years old. Blake worked for Cressey as well.

“If he told me back then that he would be hitting 100 miles an hour in the big leagues, I probably would not have believed it,” Blake said. “But when you’ve seen each incremental step, it’s believable. It would have seemed far-fetched at the time.”

“Coming out of the bullpen, I can stay at 94, 96 the whole time because that’s become my norm,” King said. “My maximum effort velocity continues to bump up a bit more and more. Hitting 96 and then staying there for a few weeks or months or whatever allows me to step on one and reach 98. Now sitting 95-98 allows me to step on one and get a result like the one that came out the other day.”

Anthony Rizzo is on track to make history in a very painful fashion. The Yankees’ first baseman has been hit by pitches 11 times in 73 games this season. He has been hit by a pitch 189 times in his regular-season career and four times in the postseason.

Rizzo is far and away the active leader for hit-by-pitches, with Mets outfielder Starling Marte trailing him with 139. Derek Dietrich, who is currently in Triple A with the Yankees, is third with 123 career plunkings.

Asked Tuesday why he thinks Rizzo gets hit so often, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said: “Because he stands on top of the plate.”

It seems likely that Rizzo will break a number of hit-by-pitch records throughout his career. With 11 plunkings in 73 games this season, he could break the Yankees’ single-season, set by Don Baylor in 1985 when he was hit 24 times. Rizzo has surpassed that number three times in his career already: He was hit 30 times in 2015, 27 times in 2019 and 24 times in 2017.

Rizzo said recently that getting hit regularly is a signal to him that he’s making good decisions with his plate discipline.

“There’s certain pitches that I pull off when I’m right and my timing is right,” Rizzo said. “I’m usually taking pitches a different way when I’m getting hit a lot.”

According to Statcast, the hardest pitch Rizzo has ever been hit by was a 99.6 mph fastball from Chris Sale in 2015. The second-hardest was 98.9 mph from two-time teammate Aroldis Chapman in 2017. The slowest pitch he’s been hit by was 63.2 mph from Adam Wainwright in 2018.

“Luckily I’ve done a good job of getting hit in spots that aren’t as painful, I guess,” Rizzo said.

The all-time hit-by-pitch record belongs to a man named Hughie Jennings, who made his debut in 1891 and retired in 1912. Jennings was hit 287 times in his career; he also holds the single-season hit-by-pitch record at 51, which Rizzo would have to try very hard to break.

Jennings was, judging by his SABR biography, an absolute maniac on (and off) the field. He was hit in the head by a pitch once, and spent four days unconscious. In 1904, he accidentally dove head-first into an empty swimming pool. Later in life, he accidentally drove a car off an icy bridge and nearly drowned in the Lehigh River. Upon his death in 1928, The New York Times wrote he had “fought a valiant but futile fight against death.”

Rizzo hopefully will not share much in common with Jennings beyond the tendency to be hit by pitches, but he could break his all-time record in due time.

Rizzo is 98 away from tying the all-time record. In 2007, Craig Biggio retired with 285 hit-by-pitches, just two shy of Jennings’ record. If Rizzo averages 20 plunkings per season for the next five years, he will take the honor of having been hit by the most pitches of anyone in baseball history.

This season, Rizzo could pass Minnie Miñoso (197) to enter the top-10 all-time. Frank Robinson would be next at 198, if Rizzo gets to 20 this year. Chase Utley retired at 204, and the climb gets steep from there.

Aaron Hicks may have overestimated how he would feel at the plate this season when, in spring training, he declared that he was shooting for a 30-30 season. After 65 games this year, Hicks has seven stolen bases, but only three home runs.

Hicks appeared to be naive about the way the wrist sheath surgery he underwent in May 2021, and the subsequent time away from the major leagues, would affect him. He is hitting .216/.338/.284 this season, with his slugging percentage sitting third-lowest among MLB hitters with at least 230 plate appearances.

His struggles driving the ball this year have indicated that he is both rebuilding some strength after his surgery and readjusting to major-league pitching. It has also required him to take a bit of a different approach at the plate to find success.

Returning to form after wrist sheath surgery is known to take a while, and Hicks said he believes “there’s just little muscles in my wrist that just weren’t firing early in the season, and they’re starting to fire now.”

He feels he has been regaining not just strength, but some wrist flexibility.

Hicks has had an inconsistent offensive season. He hit well in April, accruing a .794 OPS in 17 games, then fell into a deep rut in May, hitting .127/.253/.141 over 24 games. Hicks began to rebound a bit after a good offensive series in Minnesota, and he’s hitting .243/.356/.365 in June. His rate of hard-hit balls has been trending up, based on Statcast data.

Hicks played winter ball in the Dominican Republic to get some live reps this offseason, but the rust against MLB pitching has been more difficult to shake than he may have imagined. He said he is “relearning how to attack certain pitches in certain areas, and trusting my hands to get to that spot.”

He said early in the season he was trying to “see a lot of the ball” in his plate appearances and was driving the ball to left field a lot.

Hitting coach Dillon Lawson said that when looking into Hicks’ struggles this season, “we noticed that the bat speed is the exact same as what it was in the past, so we knew he was healthy from that standpoint and was able to generate that speed.”

“From there, it comes down to squaring up the ball to maximize that bat speed,” Lawson said. “Maybe there was a miss that was just a little bit too far below the ball, or a bit too on top. What’s been the biggest revelation for Hicks over this season has been just getting to see more pitches and understanding how the opposing pitchers will attack him.”

A 30 home run season for Hicks would require him to hit some sort of a legendary hot streak at this point, but he can proceed with more modest goals this year. He doesn’t have the comfort at the plate he may have had in 2018 or 2020, but if he builds on his June performance, he may have the chance to have a productive season.

Reliever Albert Abreu has been on a journey this season. After being traded from the Yankees to the Texas Rangers in spring training as the center of the Jose Trevino trade, he was later traded to Kansas City, where he spent less than three weeks before being designated for assignment. He made seven appearances for Texas for a 3.12 ERA. He appeared four times for the Royals, netting a 4.12 ERA.

After returning to the Yankees a little over a week ago, Abreu has made two appearances for a total of 3 1/3 innings, allowing one hit, two walks and zero runs.

These are small samples, but the Yankees’ reputation for “figuring out” struggling pitchers is growing, and getting Abreu back on track would mean that they essentially got Trevino, the best defensive catcher in the league, in exchange for one player — a non-prospect.

So what did the Yankees tell Abreu upon his return? Let’s get back to basics, dude.

“Simplicity is king for him,” pitching coach Matt Blake said. “Just like, streamline your approach through home plate. Cut down the amount of things you’re trying to do in your delivery, with the hesitations, the shimmies … just be simple and attack home plate.”

Abreu’s walk rate spiked in Texas and Kansas City. He has a four-pitch mix: A four-seam, a two-seam, a slider and a changeup. His fastballs sit around 98 mph, but Blake said that when Abreu is trying to handle all four pitches around the zone, he struggles with command and begins scattering his pitches.

As such, the Yankees told him to focus on “the big part of the plate with sinkers, sliders and if you get the lefties — changeups,” Blake said.

In his 2 1/3-inning appearance on Monday, Abreu did just that.

The Yankees told Abreu that he should remember that stylistically, he is “closer to Clay Holmes than you are Greg Maddux.” He has powerful pitches with a lot of movement, and his approach will help determine his strike rate.

“I think that the nice thing is, it’s not something that’s new to him,” Blake said. “We rehashed what made him good last year, what made him feel good in spring training. We felt he was taking strides over the last year or so to keep his mindset tight and make focused, clear attacks toward home plate. So it wasn’t a complicated message and it wasn’t new to him. It was revisiting the good stuff that we’ve seen previously.”

(Photo of Anthony Rizzo: Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Neely Ledner

Last Updated: 07/25/2022

Views: 5812

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Neely Ledner

Birthday: 1998-06-09

Address: 443 Barrows Terrace, New Jodyberg, CO 57462-5329

Phone: +2433516856029

Job: Central Legal Facilitator

Hobby: Backpacking, Jogging, Magic, Driving, Macrame, Embroidery, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Neely Ledner, I am a bright, determined, beautiful, adventurous, adventurous, spotless, calm person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.