Straightening Out Japa...Literally

For flame-thrower Rolando Japa, the start to this year is with mixed reviews. For a pitcher with a 2-5 record and a 4.19 ERA, Japa's pitching performance has been inconsistent. Among the starting pitchers, Japa has dealt with the lowest run support (2.67 runs per game) and some spotty defensive play behind him. Still, the Yankees are straightening out Japa - literally.

Japa has given up 26 runs, of which 10 are unearned. Japa, however, takes some responsibility for the unearned runs as well. Japa says, with the help of Edgar Soto, "My fault and defense's fault. But it is a combination of both."

Last year Rolando Japa showed his potential, posting a 3.50 ERA with the Gulf Coast League Yankees and striking out better than one batter per inning pitched in his first season in the United States.

"Very happy," Japa said, "with how I did last year."

For Japa, his repertoire includes a 94 MPH fastball, a curveball, and changeup. Japa, however, feels two stand out: "I have a pretty good fastball and nice breaking ball."

"He's got good life on his fastball," says teammate Eric Wordekemper. "He's got potentially a big league curveball, which I think will take him quite a ways up the ladder in our organization."

While most observers come away quite impressed with Japa's advanced secondary pitches for such a young pitcher, they always notice his fastball first.

"He's definitely got a very lively fastball," agreed Phil Coke. "He has a good changeup, and a pretty good breaking ball."

Aside from Japa's stuff on the mound, the biggest attribute to his game that doesn't get overlooked by his teammates is his personality off the field and his demeanor on it.

"Excitement," Charleston pitcher Eric Wordekemper listed as one word to describe Rolando Japa. "He's full of energy. It's exciting when Japa comes through the door."

"He's a kid that has fun, plays great, works hard," Wordekemper added, "so he definitely has a great career ahead of him."

Even without the ability to speak English, Japa still makes an impression on the non-Spanish speaking teammates.

"Actually he's one of the more animated guys," said former Charleston teammate Phil Coke. "He's hilarious. He's so funny because he picks up very quickly. He's very smart. And he wants to know. He wants to know how to speak English."

Earning the reputation as one of the hardest workers on the mound, it is Japa's insatiable desire to master the English language that is another telling sign of how badly he wants to improve in every facet of the game.

"We get around [the language barrier]," added Wordekemper. "He's actually out of all the Dominicans the one that is working hardest to learn English. It's actually really fun watching him learn and joking around."

"The more English he picks up the easier its going to be like alright, with getting your foot down, with a quick delivery, a side-step delivery, its going to help you out," added Phil Coke. "Talking about stuff like that together will be easier the more the more English that's passed from hand-to-hand. I try to speak as much Spanish as I can but its more like Spanglish but what are you gonna do."

While he continues to work towards learning English, the team jokester has one name on the team that gives him particular trouble.

"My last name, everyone gets a kick out of it- he can't quite pronounce my last name right," said Wordekemper. "So every time he sees me it is 'Werkapaka', and a lot of guys get a laugh out of that. And he likes it, so it's a funny joke."

While his teammates are impressed with his work ethic and thankful for his spirit in the clubhouse, it is his competitive fire that impresses them the most.

"He wants to be on the field just as much as I do," said Coke. "If he could figure out a way to do it, he'd be out there every day."

The good news is that Japa, with his passion for the game, spends countless hours working on his craft and never settling for second-best.

"Working on all my stuff, all my pitching," Japa listed as the main areas to his game that he's working on. "Working hard day by day."

When asked what he feels he needs to work on specifically, Japa narrowed it down. "Working on my stretch right now," Japa says. "I'm a little slow when I come home."

A deliberate delivery that gives batters the appearance he's all elbows and shoulders on the mound, Japa's trying to get to the plate quicker to help negate the opponent's base running game.

"And I know he's had a little bit of struggles at holding runners on," said former teammate Phil Coke. "But that's because he's working on his lower half and becoming consistent with a quicker leg kick and delivery so it gives our catchers a chance to throw runners out."

Learning all the little nuances of pitching, for a hurler who is just in his third year of pitching, the results are not going to be immediate when working on so many things at one time. Japa does realize that his location has not been where it needs to be.

"I am falling behind in count too often," said the former infielder, "which has lead to some higher pitch counts. "I just don't have my accuracy and I have been a little wild."

After tossing three innings of perfect relief on Thursday and striking out a season-high six batters, Japa has had moments of brilliance in his young career that has supported why the Yankees are so high on him.

"He's got a good solid arm," said Charleston Pitching Coach Scott Aldred. "He's a great competitor and has a willingness to learn new things."

One of the main areas Japa and the Yankees have been working on is in his delivery and his mechanics in an effort to get more consistent command of his pitches.

"His three pitches - we are working on locating a little better," says Coach Aldred on trying to help Japa improve his consistency."

Coach Aldred even has located one of the reasons for his trouble locating his pitches. "Probably his delivery to improve his command of his three pitches," says the pitching coach. "He gets a little crooked going to the plate so far."

With the performance he had on Thursday, the Yankees are hoping that straightening out Rolando Japa - in his delivery - could be a small step in realizing his potential.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nJapa has given up 26 runs, of which 10 are unearned. Japa, however, takes some responsibility for the unearned runs as well. Japa says, with the help of Edgar Soto, \"My fault and defense's fault. But it is a combination of both.\"
\r\n
\r\nLast year Rolando Japa showed his potential, posting a 3.50 ERA with the Gulf Coast League Yankees and striking out better than one batter per inning pitched in his first season in the United States.
\r\n
\r\n\"Very happy,\" Japa said, \"with how I did last year.\"
\r\n
\r\nFor Japa, his repertoire includes a 94 MPH fastball, a curveball, and changeup. Japa, however, feels two stand out: \"I have a pretty good fastball and nice breaking ball.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"He's got good life on his fastball,\" says teammate Eric Wordekemper. \"He's got potentially a big league curveball, which I think will take him quite a ways up the ladder in our organization.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile most observers come away quite impressed with Japa's advanced secondary pitches for such a young pitcher, they always notice his fastball first.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's definitely got a very lively fastball,\" agreed Phil Coke. \"He has a good changeup, and a pretty good breaking ball.\"
\r\n
\r\nAside from Japa's stuff on the mound, the biggest attribute to his game that doesn't get overlooked by his teammates is his personality off the field and his demeanor on it.
\r\n
\r\n\"Excitement,\" Charleston pitcher Eric Wordekemper listed as one word to describe Rolando Japa. \"He's full of energy. It's exciting when Japa comes through the door.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"He's a kid that has fun, plays great, works hard,\" Wordekemper added, \"so he definitely has a great career ahead of him.\"
\r\n
\r\nEven without the ability to speak English, Japa still makes an impression on the non-Spanish speaking teammates.
\r\n
\r\n\"Actually he's one of the more animated guys,\" said former Charleston teammate Phil Coke. \"He's hilarious. He's so funny because he picks up very quickly. He's very smart. And he wants to know. He wants to know how to speak English.\"
\r\n
\r\nEarning the reputation as one of the hardest workers on the mound, it is Japa's insatiable desire to master the English language that is another telling sign of how badly he wants to improve in every facet of the game.
\r\n
\r\n\"We get around [the language barrier],\" added Wordekemper. \"He's actually out of all the Dominicans the one that is working hardest to learn English. It's actually really fun watching him learn and joking around.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"The more English he picks up the easier its going to be like alright, with getting your foot down, with a quick delivery, a side-step delivery, its going to help you out,\" added Phil Coke. \"Talking about stuff like that together will be easier the more the more English that's passed from hand-to-hand. I try to speak as much Spanish as I can but its more like Spanglish but what are you gonna do.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile he continues to work towards learning English, the team jokester has one name on the team that gives him particular trouble.
\r\n
\r\n\"My last name, everyone gets a kick out of it- he can't quite pronounce my last name right,\" said Wordekemper. \"So every time he sees me it is 'Werkapaka', and a lot of guys get a laugh out of that. And he likes it, so it's a funny joke.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile his teammates are impressed with his work ethic and thankful for his spirit in the clubhouse, it is his competitive fire that impresses them the most.
\r\n
\r\n\"He wants to be on the field just as much as I do,\" said Coke. \"If he could figure out a way to do it, he'd be out there every day.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe good news is that Japa, with his passion for the game, spends countless hours working on his craft and never settling for second-best.
\r\n
\r\n\"Working on all my stuff, all my pitching,\" Japa listed as the main areas to his game that he's working on. \"Working hard day by day.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhen asked what he feels he needs to work on specifically, Japa narrowed it down. \"Working on my stretch right now,\" Japa says. \"I'm a little slow when I come home.\"
\r\n
\r\nA deliberate delivery that gives batters the appearance he's all elbows and shoulders on the mound, Japa's trying to get to the plate quicker to help negate the opponent's base running game.
\r\n
\r\n\"And I know he's had a little bit of struggles at holding runners on,\" said former teammate Phil Coke. \"But that's because he's working on his lower half and becoming consistent with a quicker leg kick and delivery so it gives our catchers a chance to throw runners out.\"
\r\n
\r\nLearning all the little nuances of pitching, for a hurler who is just in his third year of pitching, the results are not going to be immediate when working on so many things at one time. Japa does realize that his location has not been where it needs to be.
\r\n
\r\n\"I am falling behind in count too often,\" said the former infielder, \"which has lead to some higher pitch counts. \"I just don't have my accuracy and I have been a little wild.\"
\r\n
\r\nAfter tossing three innings of perfect relief on Thursday and striking out a season-high six batters, Japa has had moments of brilliance in his young career that has supported why the Yankees are so high on him.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's got a good solid arm,\" said Charleston Pitching Coach Scott Aldred. \"He's a great competitor and has a willingness to learn new things.\"
\r\n
\r\nOne of the main areas Japa and the Yankees have been working on is in his delivery and his mechanics in an effort to get more consistent command of his pitches.
\r\n
\r\n\"His three pitches - we are working on locating a little better,\" says Coach Aldred on trying to help Japa improve his consistency.\"
\r\n
\r\nCoach Aldred even has located one of the reasons for his trouble locating his pitches. \"Probably his delivery to improve his command of his three pitches,\" says the pitching coach. \"He gets a little crooked going to the plate so far.\"
\r\n
\r\nWith the performance he had on Thursday, the Yankees are hoping that straightening out Rolando Japa - in his delivery - could be a small step in realizing his potential.
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