Jose Berrios’s first year in the majors was something of an unmitigated disaster—an ERA of 8.02 that only looked ever so slightly better in the light of his 6.20 FIP, a walk rate of more than five batters per nine innings, a general sense of misplaced hope in nearly every start. Things have gone very differently for the Twins’ top pitching prospect so far this year. After starting the season back in Triple-A, he returned to the major league club this month and has looked far better than he ever did last year.
The 22-year-old recorded his third win in as many starts today, with a performance that wasn’t quite as dazzling as last week’s 11-strikeout no-hit bid but held plenty to marvel at all the same. There’s more than one reason for his recent success, of course, but one that’s been especially beautiful has been his breaking ball—and god, is it beautiful. A few highlights from his seven strikeouts today:
His curveball has always been one of his strengths, but it’s been better than ever in his last few outings. While he’s been getting more and more guys to chase it—47 percent of batters are swinging, as compared to 37 percent last year—he’s seen fewer and fewer make contact. Until today, Berrios had yet to give up a hit on his curve after throwing it more than 50 times in his first two starts. That’s in large part because he’s been locating it so well. He’s managed to throw the pitch almost exclusively on the outside corner so far, unlike last year, when he often saw it get away from him:
That hitless streak for the pitch ended today. Of the four hits he allowed over six innings and change, three were home runs—and two came on curveballs that didn’t land in that outside corner that’s been working so well for him. Those dingers came, basically, from two pitches that were located more like last year’s curve than this one’s—and Berrios paid the price. (Though not too high a price, as the Twins still managed to beat the Orioles 4-3.)
But in the larger body of work that is Berrios’s performance with the curve this season, those look much more like ordinary lapses that were bound to happen at some point than they do evidence that he’s slipping back into last year’s struggles. Which is very good news for anyone who watches him and very, very bad news for the American League’s right-handed hitters.