Cleveland Guardians: James Karinchak is getting torched out there

Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees
Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians' offense was quiet again on Tuesday night, spoiling a second great start from rookie Tanner Bibee in a 4-2 loss to the Yankees.

Bibee made it into the sixth inning with a 2-0 lead before giving up a home run to Anthony Volpe and a double to Gleyber Torres that took him out of the game. James Karinchak was brought in to protect the one-run lead, and promptly gave up a hit to Anthon Rizzo to tie it up. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Karinchak was tagged for a home run by Willie Calhoun, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.

It was yet another frustrating appearance for Karinchak, who is now saddled with an unsightly 5.87 ERA. He is quickly losing his grip on pitching in high-leverage situations, now that he's surrendered five home runs in his 15 1/3 innings of work (Karinchak gave up just two homers in 39 innings last season). Cleveland's offense didn't do the pitching staff any favors once again, but the team did have the lead, and Karinchak gave it away immediately.

So what happens from here? The 27-year-old is getting knocked around more than ever, as opposing batters have a 13.2% barrel rate on him. He still throws just the two pitches - the four-seamer and curveball - and the fastball is getting hit much harder in 2023, as teams are barreling up on both pitches much more than last year.

It would be great if Karinchak could develop some sort of third pitch he could occasionally use, but if that's not going to happen, locating his fastball is going to remain as vital as ever. So far, Karinchak is throwing 7% of his pitches as meatballs according to Baseball Savant, which means it's right in the middle of the zone. That's up from 4.4% in 2022, and opposing hitters are swinging at these pitches 75% of the time. They're sitting on that grooved fastball and being rewarded for it.

Karinchak will have to adapt and sort out his issues, or he won't be pitching much late in games - or when the Guardians have the lead - much longer.