Rivera Stabilizing Things

PULASKI, VA - Eduardo Rivera is one of the more experienced pitchers on the Pulaski Yankees staff. Rivera is in his fifth season in professional baseball and is finally having some success. Rivera has a 1.84 ERA in 14.2 innings and has become a reliable pitcher out of the bullpen for manager Tony Franklin.

Rivera is certainly an imposing pitcher. At 6-foot-5, the soft-spoken Rivera has great size on the mound. After some struggles in prior seasons, Rivera has found some comfort pitching in Pulaski.

“I feel very comfortable pitching here in this park,” Rivera said through the help of a translator. “It’s gone very well for me and it has gotten my confidence up while I’m pitching here.”

Rivera began his professional career in 2011, pitching in the Dominican Summer League. Rivera struggled right out of the gate, going 0-5 in 14 starts with a 9.79 ERA in his first year. Things didn’t improve much in his sophomore season, going 0-6 in 14 starts. He finished his second season with a 5.02 ERA in 52 innings.

After another season in the Dominican Summer League, Rivera was assigned to the Gulf Coast League for 2014. Rivera made seven appearances, finishing with a 5.02 ERA yet again. All eight of his runs were earned and he allowed 14 walks in just 14.1 innings.

Things are completely different for Rivera in Pulaski. He’s walked just seven batters this season and has struck out twenty.

“I like the fact that he’s not only throwing the ball with high velocity but he’s mixing his pitches very well,” Franklin said. “His curveball has actually been very good and you don’t see that a lot in young pitchers.”

Before the season, Rivera said he tried refining all of his game to get ready to face increased competition in the short-season rookie Appalachian League.

“I just wanted to work hard every day,” Rivera said. “That way, when the season came around, I would do well and help the team.”

Rivera brings good velocity with his fastball. He consistently throws it in the mid-90s and has maxed out in the upper 90s. Pitching coach Justin Pope said Rivera has always had what it takes.

“He’s got big league stuff,” Pope said. “If he can just ever hone his stuff and throw more strikes he’s got a great future ahead of him.”

That was always the book on Rivera, a hurler needing to throw more strikes, and now Rivera’s curveball, a pitch he had struggled with in prior seasons, has easily been his most improved pitch. It’s become his go-to when ahead in the count.

“It’s gotten better since his first outing here,” Franklin said. “That was a pitch that I didn’t know that he had.”

“I’ve been working with (Pope) a lot in the bullpen, before and in between starts,” Rivera said about improving his curveball.

Even with the improvement, Rivera has come out of the bullpen for all of his appearances. Franklin said he expects Rivera to stay in the bullpen.

“We’ve got four or five other guys in our rotation right now that we think are starters which is why I don’t think he’ll get a chance to start right now,” Franklin said.

“He certainly has the arm strength to start and you always want to get your best arms in the rotation but I think that’s somewhere down the line. He’s still young enough to kind of wait on him and see where he is.”

Franklin says that Rivera’s ability to shut down lineups in the middle of the game is why he likes Rivera coming out of the bullpen.

“When you come into the game as a middle reliever, you’d like the score to be the same as it was you entered the game,” Franklin said. “He’s stabilized things whenever he’s been in, whether we’ve been behind or been ahead. He’s held his position which is very good.”

Rivera said it’s not important that he breaks into the starting rotation; as long as he sees the field he’s happy.

“I feel comfortable as a reliever right now but I just want to continue doing what I’ve been doing because it’s been working for me and the team,” Rivera said.

Even though Rivera is in the bullpen now, Pope said that Rivera has the potential to be a starter in the big leagues someday.

“He needs to have better fastball command and be able to throw his curveball for strikes,” Pope said. “The higher you go, the better hitters you face, they aren’t going to be swinging and chasing as much as the younger hitters.”

Franklin said that Rivera needs to work on developing another pitch if he wants to start at the next level.

“Generally starters have about three pitches, maybe four sometimes but at this level you don’t see that,” Franklin said. “You encourage four but you try to maximize at least two pitches. Right now it’s his fastball and curveball. I don’t know about starter stuff just yet but eventually he could evolve into that.”

Franklin agreed with Pope that if Rivera can command his pitches better and combine that with his velocity, Rivera can make some noise in the Yankees’ farm system.

“Command is always an issue with young pitchers,” Franklin said. “You’ve got to be able to command your fastball to both sides of the plate. If you can spin the ball a little bit better and make it look more like a fastball, I think that’s always good for your breaking ball.”

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