DUNEDIN, Fla. — What can be the dog days of spring training were interrupted Thursday afternoon by what never fails to pique interest at this time of year.
A young, powerful arm making his debut.
James Kaprielian, who described himself earlier in spring training as “a caged bull” in his desire to get into a game, received that opportunity Thursday afternoon against the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
“The bull’s out of the cage,” the 23-year-old righthander, who took a fair amount of ribbing inside and outside the clubhouse for his “caged bull” comment, said with a smile after throwing two scoreless innings. “He’s wild.”
But headed next to minor-league camp.
The Yankees initially weren’t going to throw Kaprielian — who missed almost all of 2016 while recovering from a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow — in a game. The plan instead was to bring the 16th overall pick from the 2015 draft along slowly to ensure his readiness for April and high Class A Tampa, where he’ll begin the season.
But general manager Brian Cashman said earlier in the week that Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild wanted to “reward” Kaprielian for his dutiful offseason work — starting in the Arizona Fall League — with at least one exhibition game.
“We talked earlier in the spring and there was a clear statement I wasn’t going to make the team out of camp,” Kaprielian said. “But me being the person I am, I’m going to compete like I’m trying to become an ace . . . Regardless of where I end up, I have to be able to pitch, so now my job’s to go pitch across the street [in minor league camp].”
Though a bit amped up — the first pitch of his outing was a 96-mph fastball that was fouled off by Anthony Alford — Kaprielian showed relatively good command of his arsenal. He allowed no hits and a walk and struck out three.
“It really looked good,” one National League talent evaluator said. “Changeup needs work, but his slider, that’s a big-league pitch. The stuff is there. He was as advertised.”
Kaprielian, who came on for the seventh inning, struck out Alford on a slider. He walked Richard Urena but got Steve Pearce to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.
In the eighth, Kaprielian — whose fastball sat at 95 and peaked at 96, according to scouts — struck out Russell Martin and top prospect Rowdy Tellez, each time looking at a fastball. Jon Berti lined to right to end the inning.
There was the thought in the organization last year that if he had remained healthy, Kaprielian had a chance to reach the Bronx by season’s end. Is that possible in 2017?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “That’s the goal. I think I can help this team. Obviously, I need to stay healthy, but at the end of the day, regardless of where I am, I need to be able to pitch and throw strikes and give my team an opportunity to win. If it ends up being in the Bronx, it’s going to be a fun time and I hope I can help those guys win, but if it’s in A ball or Double-A or Triple-A, I’m going to try and do the same thing.”