TAMPA, Fla. — Things might be different for Johnny Barbato this year.
After coming out of the bullpen in 43 of his 44 appearances for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and New York Yankees last season, the right-hander might see a different role in his future.
Barbato is going to use this spring to see if he has the potential to be a starter moving forward.
“I think my spring’s been really good,” Barbato said. “They’re going to try to put me into the rotation and all of that stuff, so I’m trying to make sure I command all of those pitches to try to get into the fifth (or) sixth instead of going just one inning.”
Barbato has appeared in five games this spring — between the Yankees’ big-league and Triple-A camps — and while the results have been mixed, the 24-year-old has been pleased with his progress and so has his Triple-A manager — Al Pedrique.
The right-hander’s last appearance came Saturday, a game in which he pitched two innings.
“He threw the ball real well, kept the ball down, showed good velocity, threw some good breaking balls for strikes and I think he’s going to be working on the changeup,” Pedrique said after Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. “We’re happy with what we’ve seen so far. His velocity is back, the command of the breaking ball is better. We’re hoping that he stays healthy and he should be able to help us.”
Facing this new challenge, Barbato’s trying to be as consistent as possible. And some of that consistency comes from his coaching staff.
With both Pedrique and pitching coach Tommy Phelps back this season, Barbato and the rest of his teammates will be able to build off of last season’s success, which included both International League and national championship titles.
“Everybody respects all those guys, and I think everybody wants to play well for those guys,” Barbato said of his coaches. “I think with them there it’s going to help everybody and it’s going to be fun. They make it loose. It’s always fun.”
While the decision to turn Barbato into a starter isn’t final yet, Pedrique said they’re going to let him get his innings count up and see if he can handle the length more accustom to a starter than a reliever.
“If everything works out, I’m assuming that he’s going to be in the rotation to start the season and go from there,” the Triple-A manager said. “I think he’s such a strong guy. For me, if he can manage the changeup and the breaking ball with the velocity that he has, I don’t see why he cannot be solid starter.”
Wotherspoon’s rough outing an outlier
Sunday’s outing in the Yankees’ Triple-A spring training game didn’t go too well for Matt Wotherspoon, who pitched 1.1 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits, but it doesn’t take away from the otherwise encouraging spring the Crestwood grad has been having.
The reliever appeared in his first big-league spring training game on Feb. 28 — a hitless third inning against the Boston Red Sox, in which he only allowed one walk — and has been pitching well overall, according to Pedrique.
“I think this is first outing facing real competition down here in spring training (since Feb. 28), but going from last year, he did a great job coming out of the bullpen,” Pedrique said. “He gave us some solid innings and he helped the team win. I’m thinking right now the key is his mindset, getting ready for the season. He elevated pitches today. The wind was blowing out a little bit. There’s a short porch in right field, so that’s why that (home run) happened today. Overall, his command, he just needs to get his command down and work on his breaking stuff.”
Pedrique expects to use Wotherspoon out of the bullpen again this season.
“It all depends how everything shapes up once we start getting guys down from the big leagues,” he said. “As of right now, I think we’ll see him working out of the bullpen.
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