The Legend of James Karinchak

Cleveland Indians relief pitcher James Karinchak throws in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins, September 14, 2019, during game two of a double header at Progressive Field. (John Kuntz,

Through the first seventeen games of the 2020 season, it is no secret that the Indians have been a severely one-sided team. Although the Tribe’s offense has been dismal, their pitching staff has been all but impossible to hit, with a team ERA of 2.04, an impressive eleven strikeouts per nine innings compared to only two walks, and a Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched of less than one. The five man starting rotation is arguably the best group of young talent in all of baseball. But, their success would be meaningless without a strong bullpen to finish out the close games the Indians will inevitably continue to find themselves in until their bats warm up. An unlikely hero of the Indians bullpen so far has been the second-year right hander James Karinchak.

James Karinchak was drafted by Cleveland in the ninth round of the 2017 MLB draft out of Bryant University, where he was a solid starting pitcher. Karinchak began his professional career for the single-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers, where he continued as a starting pitcher, tallying an unimpressive 5.79 ERA in his first season. In 2018, Karinchak bounced between the single-A and AA minor leagues, pitching for Lynchburg, Lake County, and Akron out of the bullpen. This proved to be a godsend for Karinchak, as his ERA dropped to just a 1.29 and he recorded 81 strikeouts in less than 50 innings pitched. Karinchak made his Major League debut in 2019 against the Minnesota Twins on September 14; he would end up appearing in five games for the Tribe that year. The majority of his 2019 season was spent in AA Akron and AAA Columbus, where he would have nothing short of a breakout year. In 30.1 relief innings, Karinchak would strike out an astonishing 74 batters, tallying a unbelievable 22 strikeouts per nine innings. James Karinchak was establishing himself as a force out of the bullpen.

Karinchak would make the opening day roster for the first time in 2020. Thus far, he has been a force to be reckoned with, appearing in seven games without allowing a single earned run and striking out 13 of the 26 batters he has faced. With a fastball commonly registering above 96 miles per hour, a deadly 12-6 curveball, and a windup weird enough to make Ubaldo Jimenez blush, James Karinchak has effortlessly torn through opposing batters. This kid comes out of the bullpen with an unmatched swagger and throws all of the nasty stuff to back it up. A surefire closer could be the difference between the playoffs and an early exit for the 2020 Indians, and Brad Hand has been less than money so far with his ERA clocking in at just over seven. If Hand continues to struggle, Karinchak could be the solution for the Indians at closer. If not, he has proven to be a great setup man, able to quickly get the Indians out of a pinch when needed. Overall, James Karinchak is proving to be yet another blossoming young pitcher in the Indians’ staff who will likely be able to contribute for years to come. Who knows, maybe Tito Francona could even throw him into the cleanup spot once or twice. He couldn’t hit any worse than the  team’s outfielders, and at least he would come out with confidence.

(All statistics from

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