“I think he has really good stuff and I’m surprised the Yankees would let him go”

INDIANAPOLIS — Johnny Barbato previously pitched in Yankee Stadium several times, but was feeling nervous warming up in the Victory Field bullpen.

Not because of the venue, but rather the situation.

Barbato was about to make his Pirates organizational debut with Triple-A Indianapolis a few days after being claimed off waivers by the Pirates from the Yankees for a player to be named later or cash.

“I’m not going to lie, the first few pitches in the bullpen I was like, ‘Alright, let’s calm down a little bit. Just calm down and be able to throw a strike,’” Barbato said.

Barbato managed to calm down, allowing just one hit over two scoreless innings on Thursday. He followed that performance up with a perfect inning on Sunday.

Now, he’s been promoted to Pittsburgh to take the place of Antonio Bastardo, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left quad strain.

“I think he has really good stuff and I’m surprised the Yankees would let him go and put him on waivers,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said on Sunday. “They must have a lot of quality arms over there.”

Barbato throws a fastball that sits 94-95 MPH and can reach 96-97 on occasion, mixing that with a splitter and a cutter-slider.

“He can put them all over the zone,” Barkett said. “I’m sure it’s not going to be as good as it was (in his Indianapolis debut) because if it was, he could pitch in the big leagues right now. But I was impressed. He’s a guy I think we can make better and a guy that I think can be used in Pittsburgh.”

Prior to releasing him, the Yankees organization were having Barbato transition from reliever to starter this season, despite only making one start over the previous four seasons. The Pirates are expected to use Barbato as a middle, long-inning relief option.

“It’s easier to go from starter to reliever than reliever to starter,” Barbato said. “I’ve been a reliever my whole career, so it won’t be that hard. I’m excited to be back in the bullpen and have a daily routine again.”

Barbato made 31 appearances, all but one in relief, for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season, compiling a 2.61 earned run average and 1.26 WHIP. In 13 relief appearances with the Yankees last season, he had a 7.62 ERA and 1.38 WHIP.

Struggling on the mound isn’t easy anywhere, but can be magnified playing for an organization like the Yankees with the media frenzy found in that city.

“It definitely is a high-pressure environment,” Barbato said. “I think in the long run it helps you out. You learn how to deal with it and not really get to you. I think it can help out with a lot of things, and helps you slow down the game. Zone it all out and be able to pitch.”

The change of scenery might be a boost for Barbato’s career.

“In talking with him and it doesn’t have to be necessarily New York, but sometimes you’ve been in an organization for a number of years and they know what you are, and you know what they are,” Barkett said. “They kind of like you, but they don’t love you. Sometimes you just kind of get sick of each other, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but more the business side. ‘We know what you’ve got, but you don’t really fit into what we want for that role. You’re probably frustrated with us that we’re not putting you into that role so we’re going to move you somewhere else.’”

In the late 1990s, Barkett recalled his playing career taking a similar path. Barkett hit .307 with 10 home runs and 76 RBI in his second season with the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He also hit .314 in 80 games at that level the previous season.

But no promotion to the major leagues. Barkett asked to be released and he landed with the Atlanta Braves organization before making his major league debut with the Pirates one year later.

“I had a whole new appreciation for my game,” Barkett said. “It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders because I knew the Rangers thought I was only a Triple-A player, but the Braves thought this was a different guy. That’s awesome to have as a player. It’s like a new life, a new beginning. Anytime you get that as a player you have a chance to prove yourself and prove it to the powers that be.”

Barkett and Barbato both grew up in the Miami area. And when Barkett was in high school he played against a team coached by Barbato’s father, John.

“I know who the kid is deep down and know where he’s from,” Barkett said. “I know he’s going to compete and be competitive with that type of stuff.”

Barbato won’t have to wait long to see if joining the Pirates’ organization will be a boost for his career. That might prove true if he pitches like he did in his two appearances with Indianapolis.

  • Do they value Santana enough that they are holding him back until the Super 2 date passes?

    • Money is always a consideration, but I would imagine he doesn’t have enough experience at AAA to warrant promotion.

      Super 2 is more of an issue for SP and high ceiling positional players than RP’s.

  • He could be a real “sleeper” if he can manage to keep the ball down. The velocity is impressive, he is still only 24, and he has been 9+ K/9 every one of the past 4 years.

    I especially like that the Pirates are giving him an immediate opportunity to impress. Also impressed with Andy Barkett and his straightforward approach.

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