The Athletics assign their hotel rooms alphabetically on the road — probably not an uncommon practice — so James Kaprielian and Tony Kemp usually find themselves as neighbors. On Thursday, enjoying a day off in Manhattan, the neighbors looked ahead.
“He said, ‘Man, I just can’t wait for tomorrow,’ ” the outfielder Kemp disclosed about the pitcher Kaprielian.
Yeah, Friday night in The Bronx was a big one for Kaprielian and a painful one for the Yankees. Kaprielian, once a potential pillar of this very Yankees team, instead made his Yankee Stadium debut by leading the A’s to a 5-3 victory over the club that drafted him. The AL West leaders halted the Yankees’ three-game winning streak. And now Kaprielian, the Yankees’ first-round draft pick of 2015, the 16th selection overall that year, boasts of a 2.84 ERA in seven starts.
If he couldn’t have made a difference in New York these past few years, as he took time to recover from 2017 Tommy John surgery, he sure could right now, as a 27-year-old rookie, while the man the Yankees acquired for him (and others), Sonny Gray, marks his third season with the Cincinnati Reds after flaming out in the Big Apple.
“I”m not gonna lie. I was excited to be here,” said Kaprielian, who lasted 5 ²/₃ innings, allowing three runs and three hits, walking one and striking out seven. “For so long, I envisioned myself pitching on that mound and wearing a different uniform. But the fact that I got to be here at all is special.”
Since the Yankees returned to attack mode on the baseball-operations level, making a number of “buy” trades starting in the middle of the 2017 season (including Kaprielian, Dustin Fowler and Jorge Mateo for Gray), none of the youngsters they surrendered have come back to bite them in any significant way. The UCLA product Kaprielian, given his pedigree, has the potential to do that, if later than the A’s originally hoped.
While acknowledging that the A’s took it easy on Kaprielian when he first replaced the injured Jesus Luzardo in their starting rotation last month, longtime Oakland manager Bob Melvin said: “Now he’s just settled into that role and he’s been really good. You look at the swings and misses [a game-high 14], for a guy who doesn’t throw in the upper 90s [he topped out at 94 miles per hour], he gets a lot of them, which means he hides the ball, which means his slider plays really well off his fastball for righties and his changeup plays really well off his fastball for lefties, more than anything.
“He got an opportunity because of an injury. We weren’t really sure what we were going to get from him. And now he’s pitched his way into a mainstay in our rotation.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said: “He featured both secondary pitches, the slider, that changeup was dancing around a little bit too and good fastball to the edges. Overall, he threw the ball pretty well against us.”
Kaprielian surrendered a fifth-inning solo homer to Rougned Odor that put Yankees reliever Wandy Peralta in position to win the game, after Jameson Taillon (4 ²/₃ innings, two runs) had at least improved over his previous, disastrous outing in Philadelphia (one-third inning, four runs). But Kemp’s three-run, sixth-inning dinger off Peralta put the A’s back on top, and the Yankees’ lineup, after three solid days against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, quieted down once more, giving Kaprielian his personal milestone.
Speaking of quiet, Kaprielian took a walk to the Stadium’s warning track earlier in the afternoon, a process he called “feeling silence” that he learned from the late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and deploys before every start. Then he sufficiently silenced the Yankees, some of whom he knew from his time in the minor leagues.
His tale is more one of perseverance, given the injury hurdles he has leapt, than getting vengeance on the Yankees.
“This is a business,” he said.
Nevertheless, this trade is finally paying off for the A’s at a time when the Yankees could use another arm. It’s not a development the Yankees, still lifting themselves off the mat, really need right now.