Wednesday evening was a major one for prospect pitchers with most of the attention going to Nate Pearson, who shut down the Nationals through five innings. I wrote a GIF Breakdown about him then, but after Cristian Javier dominated the Dodgers seemingly out of nowhere, Twitter flattered me and asked for another.
The quick background on Javier: low 90s velocity with a strong breaking ball. Changeup in the mix and whispers of stamina issues. He absolutely lit up Double-A last year with a 2.07 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 39% strikeout rate, and a 16% SwStr rate, though it came with a 13% walk rate. A bit odd to see the strikeout numbers given the low velocity and that walk rate is quite alarming, but who knows, tweaks happen all the time when jumping the ranks and this could be one of those exceptions.
So let’s dive straight into it. Here is Cristian Javier’s MLB debut in 28 GIFs.
If you read the introduction, you can see I was expecting about 91 mph from Javier. Here are the first two pitches we saw as he faced Max Muncy:
Yeah, no, that’s 94 and 95 mph. There’s often a ton of adrenaline pumping during these outings, especially against a team like the Dodgers and I can imagine Javier had the human condition on his side to begin this game. Still, 95! The sheer ability to hit that number is impressive.
We should talk about those locations as well. The first one is excellent on the black away, the second…not so much. It’s an early hint that Javier may not be a command focused arm, but Muncy, likely expecting a breaker, took it all the way at 95 mph. Something to think about moving forward.
After a pair of heaters, Javier threw his first breaker of the night and it was a beaut:
…oof. Muncy doesn’t know the shape of its break yet and he simply couldn’t resist. The location is perfect – meaty enough for a terribly long time before diving too far in to make proper contact – and it’s a well-earned punchout.
His next at-bat against Mookie Betts was mostly the same as Javier went fastball heavy away to get to 0-2, still at 94/95 mph. However, at 1-2 with three fastballs thrown prior, Mookie sat breaking ball. He didn’t get it:
Not a great pitch and the product of a great pitch call. That’s Betts, right there.
The fastball dominance continued against Bellinger with a pair of heaters at the top of the zone that someone landed a 1-1 count, including a legit whiff to Cody Bellinger:
Batters’ swings will tell you how deceptive a pitcher is – Javier is clearly holding an explosive heater in his hands. This isn’t your standard 94/95 mph.
Javier gets to 2-2 with more fastballs and after a 96 (!) mph fastball up-and-in that’s fouled off, Javier ended the at-bat with this:
We’ve only seen a pair of breaking balls thus far from Javier and they’ve been perfectly executed off the plate for whiffs. Superb.
So let’s review. Javier is throwing 94/95 mph with clear deception, confidently hits the zone, and has a curveball that has earned a pair of strikeouts.
If this hasn’t gotten you hyped yet, I’m not sure what you’re looking for.
Fine, there are three majors questions to still answer and I’m not sure we’ll get them soon:
1) Are his curve and changeup (where is it?) enough as secondary pitches?
2) How fast will he tire out and will he still be effective without 94+ velocity?
3) Is his command good enough or are we just witnessing an exception?
Keep all of this in mind as we move on.
On that note, Javier demands your respect after dotting the outside corner for strike one against Justin Turner:
Yep, that’s pretty. Instead of sticking with heat this time, he followed it up with an 80 mph breaker that was hung a bit, but recorded an out to left field:
It’s good to see Javier feature the hook for a strike and return an out, though this could be punished in the future.
Next up was Corey Seager and after missing with a heater at 1-0, he yanked another along the inside corner at 93 mph:
My first instinct was that it wasn’t a terrible location, but this is Seager, who they likely knew they wanted to stay away from. There’s your first major ding on command.
After getting beat on a heater, Javier featured a pair of breaking balls to start off Chris Taylor:
Excellent, yes the second one was a bit hung like Turner, but I’ll take this strike over it missing out of the zone. And the thing is it sets up…
…an elevated fastball for a strikeout. Man, I’m digging this right now. Javier is effectively getting whiffs on fastballs while pairing it with a curveball he can throw confidently for strikes. This is pretty great.
We had more surprises in the next at-bat to Joc Pederson. He missed with a first-pitch heater at 93 mph, then threw these two pitches:
Yep, that’s a pair of 88 mph changeups, back-to-back, after not throwing a single one all game. And it worked.
I’m not particularly in love with the pitch itself, but I do like how Javier called upon the pitch for the first time and executed it. So he threw another and got another whiff. Those are free strikes as Joc is simply not prepared for a changeup in either situation (no way he’s throwing another!).
But the changeup itself? Yeah, not great. Little depth or ride to them and the velocity gap is minimal at 5-7 mph. We need to see one or the other – movement or velocity gap – for us to get excited about a changeup and this one has neither. But hey! A few free strikes.
Pederson battled for a bit after, but eventually Javier got his man with this 93 mph heater:
Not the best pitch, but if you see a hitter swing at a fastball this elevated at 93 mph, you know there’s something more going on here. This is a legit heater, even with its lowered velocity.
After two frames, we’ve seen the fastball work well and paired with a strong breaking ball. However, his changeup isn’t one to make a big impact, and his fastball is beginning to decline in velocity, not to mention its command is good but shows signs of degradation. We’ll see how Javier evolves through the game.
The third inning has arrived with Javier at just 28 pitches and he started off Matt Beaty with a heater taken for a strike…at 92 mph. How low is it going to go?
At 0-1, he elevated with more 92 mph to earn a whiff. Great to see him still get whiffs at the lower velocity!
0-2 saw a missed fastball away, then the deadly breaking ball arrived:
Out of his hand, this pitch looked just like the fastball that landed away for a ball before its harsh break over the plate. It reminds me a touch of what Jose Fernandez used to do.
In the nine-hole was Austin Barnes who saw a curve intended for the outside edge but backed up and just missed the inside corner for ball one. It’s the first truly “missed” breaker I’d seen from Javier all game.
At 1-0, Javier got an out with a fastball away over the plate that was popped up to Jose Altuve. It’s the nine-hitter, this is a good pitch to earn a quick out.
Now back to the top, Max Muncy saw a first-pitch breaking ball that swept across the plate and just nipped the inside corner for strike one. Then we saw this gorgeous 0-1 pitch:
There’s little reason for Munch to expect this changeup and you can see him adjust his bat as he found out it wasn’t a fastball too late. Much better than the two we saw to Pederson and likely saved as an option against left-handers.
His next two pitches looked like regular strikeout offerings but didn’t get chases as Javier went low with a breaker then climbed the ladder with a fastball. At 2-2, Muncy fouled off an inside curveball, then took the bait at this 93 mph heater well above the zone:
So “gassing it” is now 93 mph for Javier, but nevertheless, he was able to get a major whiff on a fastball well out of the zone. Again, there’s clearly plenty of deception at play.
Javier got himself a quick out facing Mookie Betts a second time, throwing him two breakers after going sole fastballs back in the first. The second was well placed away:
I’m loving this. We talk about the importance of having a “three-pitch mix” but in actuality, all you truly need are two pitches you can put where you want. It’s great having three pitches as one of those primary two pitches will simply not be there on a given night and you need a backup plan. Javier doesn’t need the backup right now.
Mmmm I’m digging this first pitch to Cody Bellinger with one gone in the fourth:
That’s a free strike or an out every time. Love it.
He followed this with a changeup that fell off the plate away at 87 mph and taken for ball one. Better movement than the Pederson pitches, but still not exceptional.
Javier tried to sneak a heater past Bellinger at 1-1, but at 92 mph, Bellinger was able to rocket it way foul down the line. It’s a terrifying sign of what may come.
But Javier had no fear, attempting to get the pitch a little higher on the inside corner. It leaked out over the plate a bit at 93 mph and Bellinger floated it to left for the second out of the frame:
I am a little sad to see Javier fail to spot that location up-and-in. It’s another sign of his shifty fastball command, but he got it up enough and I’m okay with that. Come to think of it, he hasn’t thrown many – if at all – fastballs at the knees quite yet. I’m okay with this.
It happened again vs. Justin Turner. After flipping a nice curveball for strike one, he tried to high-and-tight and it leaked away instead:
Again, it got an out as it was tempting enough, but these are signs of what can (and likely will) go wrong in the future when his misses don’t fall in ideal spots.
With Corey Seager leading off, it was a bit obvious we wouldn’t see a first-pitch fastball – remember, he crushed a fastball over the fence last time up. Seager was thinking the same thing and clobbered a curveball left right down the middle:
Altuve fortunately gobbled it up, but we may be seeing the command start to fade as Javier runs out of stamina in the later innings.
We had an interesting at-bat next against Chris Taylor. He got two strikes with a pair of well spotted fastballs on the outside corner:
Okay, his fastball command is still there as long as he stays away from batters. Sidenote: It’s 92/93 mph now and I’m wondering when 91 mph will show up.
At 1-2, I realized I hadn’t seen Javier get a whiff on a curveball away and off the plate to a right-hander yet. With that in mind, watch these next two pitches:
Javier tried to execute that exact bender and failed, then tried again, still failed, but it caught just enough of the inside corner to get the punchout. I’m a bit annoyed he couldn’t quite do what he wanted to and got a little lucky here, but nevertheless it’s a clear indication of the break on this pitch. Tl;dr It’s nasty.
It really is nasty as Joc Pederson took strike one with one of those hooks curving back into the zone along the outside corner. I’m really digging this pitch.
At 0-1, Javier tried to go up-and-in and missed way up and out…at 91 mph. There it is! Not good across the board as that was just his 56th pitch.
1-1 came with a changeup that fell off the edge for a ball, but then Javier finally executed the pitch I’ve wanted, a high-and-tight fastball:
Even at 91 mph, this location earned an out and I’m thrilled about it. Given everything else, I don’t believe he can do this often, but hey, he did it here and it worked. Here’s credit.
After five frames, I’m impressed but getting a sense of dread. I love how his fastball gets whiffs up but I wonder if this is a flash in the pan given the declining velocity. His command is inconsistent, but it’s often located up and causing outs against a strong offense. Meanwhile, his breaking ball is incredibly effective and will help him considerably, while his changeup is a mediocre mix-up offering. I’m curious if we’ll see much difference in the sixth, especially as I expect him to run out of gas.
The first pitch – Javier’s 59th of the night – came in at just 90 mph to Matt Beaty, missing below the zone for ball one. How low can we go? He followed with a tugged 91 mph fastball that barely clipped the inside corner for strike one. His velocity is slipping and so is his command. He’s feeling it in his arm without a doubt.
At 1-1 he tried to come inside with a curveball and it ended up away instead…but it was still oh-so-pretty:
I’m conflicted when I see this. On one hand, he didn’t put it where he wanted to. On the other, it didn’t really matter – he’s missed locations on curveballs multiple times and they’ve been missing in the same spot arm-side.
Now with two strikes, Javier tried to put away Beaty but struggled. First a fastball inside at 91 mph that was fouled off, then 90 mph that missed well above the zone. Then there was this:
Yikes, I take back what I just said about his curveball misses. This is a pitch that can be demolished against good hitters, a true hanger we often find in bleachers. Javier got lucky.
It’s getting worse. Austin Barnes, the #9 hitter, was walked on four fastballs, all trying to be along the outside corner and missing in nearly all directions – up, inside, and away. Javier even shook his arm aggressively after the second pitch, something pitchers do to liven up a stiff arm (I know, I used to do it myself):
Javier is not stretched out to survive past 60 pitches.
It comes out a bit against Max Muncy who fought to a 3-2 count by resisting a pair of curveballs that fell right under the zone. Javier tried to get him out with high fastballs, but Muncy fouled back 91 mph pitches – they just didn’t have the same zip as those earlier in the game.
Javier even tried to turn to a changeup for the second time in the at-bat at 3-2, but it fell inside and was fouled off. Muncy made him work.
He won the battle in the end, no surprise with his breaking ball, which has been the money pitch all night:
It’s not a great breaking ball, but it does enough to earn a dribbler that Javier couldn’t get a grip on and failed to record the out.
I should note that this was Javier’s first at-bat from the stretch. Just another element to make this such a tough situation.
At this point, I’m surprised Javier is still out there, but there he is, with a man in scoring position, in a tie game, in the 6th, facing Mookie Betts. Not great, Bob.
After missing upstairs with 91 mph, it was another spotted curveball away to turn it into a 1-1 count. Betts fouled off an elevated 91 mph heater, then again on the next 92 mph pitch.
There’s a sense that the Dodgers are on Javier right now. The deceptiveness and explosive release we saw earlier is gone. All I’m thinking is for Javier to lean as hard as he can on his curveball – it’s worked every time thus far, you can get a double play with it here.
At 1-2, he missed with a changeup, then made an excellent pitch down-and-away:
Phew. One of the best fastballs of the night as Javier didn’t nail a low fastball like this the entire game and he earned a very important out to right-center.
Finally Dusty Baker got the message and removed Javier from the game at 82 pitches, ending with a line of 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 Hits, 1 BB, 8 Ks. Not bad for a debut against the Dodgers.
I’m both excited and terrified. Those first few innings were legit with Javier featuring 93-95 mph velocity and a vicious breaking ball that missed plenty of bats. His affinity for the high heater makes me a fan and can turn him into a legit arm in the majors.
But before his 50th pitch, we could see his stamina depleting. His velocity dropped to 91 mph as he missed more locations and his changeup didn’t do a whole lot to help nullify his fastball’s degradation. His curveball was a threat through the game, though, and that pitch alone will keep the strikeouts flowing.
Overall, I’d be a little wary of putting much trust in Javier repeating this success in the near future. I think he needs time to get stretched out properly and until then, we may be seeing more of the 91/92 mph version that carried a little too much anxiety for my tastes.
Will the Indians be using a 6-man rotation throughout the year. Clev and Bieber would lose two starts each if they are.
I don’t expect that – I think Plutko pitched because of the double-header.