There are really two types of debuts in the majors. There are highly anticipated ones like Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Bobby Witt Jr. next year, etc. And there are debuts that are made out of necessity. Think Eduardo Villacis. Angel Zerpa made his big league debut last night out of necessity with four Royals starters on the IL and another one not making another start. Of all the big league debuts we’ve seen this season from these highly touted starters, Zerpa’s was easily the best.
Let’s start with the line. He went five innings and gave up just two runs on three hits. Neither run was earned. He struck out four and walked only one. I’m sort of convinced the one walk was pitching around Myles Straw because he would have rather faced Bradley Zimmer to end his outing. He came after hitters by throwing strikes. Out of 68 pitches, 44 were strikes. His first inning was 11 pitches and he had two called third strikes. His second inning was seven pitches. I could look this up, but I’m not going to. It seems like the Royals average 18 pitches per first inning and this rookie at 22 years old and three days threw that many in two.
Now, it isn’t like Zerpa is a nobody. He absolutely isn’t Villacis. He was a surprise to me when the Royals protected him from the Rule 5 draft last year by putting him on the 40-man roster, but quickly I found out that the organization thinks very highly of him. They love his ability to throw strikes and go after hitters. We saw that last night. He had a slightly stripped down Indians lineup with Amed Rosario and Franmil Reyes out, but he still had to face some good hitters. As I noted yesterday, he also has a kind of different arm angle that seems likely to give hitters trouble, at least until they’ve seen him a few times.
Let’s just take a look at his pitches from last night.
What jumps out at me is that he only had four whiffs all night, but his CSW% was still at 26 percent. The fastball was absolutely giving hitters some fits. On literally his second batter, he threw a pitch to Zimmer that I don’t know if any other Royals starter has thrown this year (that’s probably hyperbole, but I’m not sure how much).
When you can paint the black with 95.4 MPH like that, there’s a place for you in this game. The very next batter was the dangerous Jose Ramirez.
When you can paint the black with 94.9 MPH like that, there’s a place for you in this game. What’s crazy about these two strikeouts is that Cam Gallagher didn’t have to move his glove like at all for them. Are you kidding me?
Then look at the very next batter, Harold Ramirez. On an 0-1 pitch, he threw his first big league changeup. Watch where Gallagher’s glove is and watch where the pitch comes in.
Being able to hit a target like that is incredibly impressive, but that’s also a fantastic changeup, which is the pitch that is supposedly behind his fastball and slider. Two pitches later, he climbed the ladder to Ramirez with a fastball, missing the target, but in a good way while ahead in the count.
It wasn’t perfect like this the rest of the game for Zerpa. He found some trouble in the third, though it wasn’t all his fault. The hardest hit ball of the night was by Roberto Perez, but Adalberto Mondesi made a fantastic play to field it and then made a bad throw and Carlos Santana couldn’t pick it. Perez ended up scoring on a soft double and then Straw, who had singled, scored on the second hardest hit ball of the night, a Zimmer sacrifice fly.
But Zerpa made it through the fourth easily and when he found himself in a little trouble in the fifth, I mentioned he seemed to work around Straw with Dylan Coleman up in the bullpen to get Jose Ramirez if Zerpa couldn’t get Zimmer out, but on his last pitch of the game, he hit Gallagher’s glove and that was that.
That was as impressive a big league debut as we’ve seen since Brady Singer against these very Indians last year. Zerpa mixed his fastball and slider well and threw in a few sinkers and changeups to alter the hitters’ eye levels a bit. It’s easy to see that performance and think you can add him to the list for next year, and he’s absolutely going to get a chance to compete for a job. But let’s remember that he struggled at AA after his promotion and had a tough time in one AAA start as well. It likely won’t always be as easy as this for him.
Early in the game, my first thought watching him was Jose Quintana. The repertoire isn’t the same. Quintana was more fastball/curve and didn’t throw as hard, but they’re about the same size, both have numbers in the 60s and both absolutely pound the zone. If that’s what Zerpa is for a few years, I will absolutely take it. And even if he can’t work in the rotation, that pitch mix and ability to throw hard and throw strikes is one that will work in the bullpen without a doubt.
It’s kind of funny looking at all these big-time pitching prospects the Royals have run out there that Carlos Hernandez had the best season of all of them and Zerpa had the best debut of all of them. Sometimes, you truly can’t predict baseball. But it was fun to watch Zerpa last night and I’m looking forward to seeing him in Surprise next year to compete for a spot.
Well, he played. He obviously wasn’t 100 percent, but he was the DH. I found it interesting that the Royals didn’t bring up Sebastian Rivero. Maybe they will for today’s game now that they can option Zerpa since he won’t have another start this year, but the way Perez was moving, they were pretty clearly working with just one catcher last night. He did rope a double at 103.2 MPH, but his bum ankle cost the Royals a run when he was thrown out at the plate on a ball that nobody is going to be thrown out at the plate on typically.
He’ll get the chance to face some Twins starters who aren’t great at limiting home runs this weekend, so hopefully he’ll have 13 or 14 at bats against them and get at least one and hopefully two. Maybe he’ll be moving a bit better today too because that hurt my ankle to watch.