Japa Has High Hopes

Rolando Japa earned a spot in Charleston's piggy-back rotation to begin the year, but struggled with inconsistency, going 2-7 with a 5.02 ERA. Realizing there was a problem, Japa returned to Extended Spring Training to prepare himself for a future higher than Charleston.

"I asked the Yankees to send me down to Tampa to work on some stuff and then they sent me up here [to Staten Island]," Rolando Japa said through interpreter Polo Burgos. "[I wanted] to work on the fastball because I wasn't happy with the way I was throwing it up there."

Japa has electric stuff, as he struck out 50 in Charleston in 46 2/3 innings, but higher level hitters could catch up to his fastball when he did not properly locate it. Poor location became a problem for Japa as he also gave up 56 hits and 21 walks in his time in the South Atlantic League.

"It's just that down there [in Charleston] I was just throwing it," Japa said. "You know, just throwing a fastball [and saying], ‘Here, hit it.' Here they're working with me to make the fastball better and learn to throw it at the right time and that's what's helped me."

"He got off to a decent start [in Charleston]," said Manager Gaylen Pitts, "but later location and walks were a problem for him. He got his confidence down low and I think he just needed a good couple free outings to get it back. I think they worked on him on a couple of mechanical things that helped him a little bit, but it's a game of confidence. If you don't have it, you're not going to be aggressive and you're going to back off, and I think that was probably what his problem was."

Japa agreed that in Charleston, he did not fully trust his stuff and realized work needed to be done. Now he has solved his fastball problem, which is bad news for NY-Penn League hitters.

"I feel more comfortable now here [in Staten Island]," said Japa. "Over there [in Charleston] I wasn't as confident in my fastball and I have been confident [here]. It wasn't because of my surroundings. It was just me. I just didn't feel comfortable at all."

Armed with comfort, confidence, and a well-located fastball, Japa has dominated the NY-Penn League in his first two starts. On Tuesday night, Japa threw a no-hitter in his six innings of work, earning his second win of the season while posting a microscopic 0.79 ERA.

"I saw a guy who was aggressive in the strike zone with his fastball and pitched inside real well," Pitts said of Japa's Tuesday night performance. "[He] got ahead of the hitters, pretty consistent and used all of his pitches, his change-up and his breaking ball. He had a good breaking ball. So they couldn't key in on just one pitch because he was ahead the whole night."

As Japa learns to master his fastball, to go along with his good curveball, he continues to work on developing his change-up, which Pitts believes is key to his success now and in the future.

"He threw a few [change-ups] last night," Pitts said. "They weren't where he wants to get it yet, because he couldn't throw it for strikes consistently, but it's coming along. And at least he's throwing it. He's not afraid to use it. You gotta use it to show them that other pitch. If you're a two-pitch pitcher, it's easy to zero in. Everything's hard and, if you have just two pitches, it's a lot easier to hit. But if you've got that other thing to off-set it, you're gonna be in a lot better shape."

Japa has improved at keeping runners off base, but holding them when they do get on remains a work in progress. He didn't allow a hit on Tuesday, but allowed one unearned run because a runner was able to steal second and third and score on a throwing error. Japa tried to become quicker to the plate when he was with Charleston.

"Last night he wasn't [quick to the plate]," said Pitts. "The guys ran on him pretty good, but he's been working on it. That's something when he gets to the higher [level] balls he's going to have to do, is hold the runner."

Japa continues to work on it, and while he may not have solved the problem yet, focusing on holding the runner no longer distracts him from the next batter as it did in Charleston.

"I was too worried about runners on when they got on before," Japa said. "But now I feel more comfortable and more relaxed. I've been able to work on those things so I feel a lot better now."

The better Japa feels, the worse opposing batters will feel in the batter's box. Having learned the need for location against more advanced hitters, Japa is having his way with the inexperienced batter he faces in Staten Island.

"I feel that the hitters here [in the NY-Penn League] are a little too aggressive and I can play with them with my pitches and get them out easier," Japa said. "Over there [in the South Atlantic League] the hitters are smarter. They have more experience. I think that hitters here have a disadvantage when it comes to me."

Japa, though, did not come to Staten Island to avoid the challenge of more difficult hitters. On the contrary, after pitching four innings of one hit ball in High-A Tampa last year, Japa has a taste for an even greater challenge. Going to Tampa, in Extended Spring Training, was a preparation to ultimately get back to Tampa, in the Florida State League.

"That's the reason why I'm here," Japa said. "I was pitching in a league stronger than this one. I wasn't doing as well. And that's why I thought it was better for me to kind of start over before I went down to Tampa to pitch. [I wanted] to get myself ready, to work with those guys, and be able to fit in with the kind of competition down there [in High-A Tampa]."

Japa already had High-A hopes, and now he has the fastball location to go with them.

* Special thanks to Polo Burgos for his help in translating.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n\"I asked the Yankees to send me down to Tampa to work on some stuff and then they sent me up here [to Staten Island],\" Rolando Japa said through interpreter Polo Burgos. \"[I wanted] to work on the fastball because I wasn't happy with the way I was throwing it up there.\"
\r\n
\r\nJapa has electric stuff, as he struck out 50 in Charleston in 46 2/3 innings, but higher level hitters could catch up to his fastball when he did not properly locate it. Poor location became a problem for Japa as he also gave up 56 hits and 21 walks in his time in the South Atlantic League.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's just that down there [in Charleston] I was just throwing it,\" Japa said. \"You know, just throwing a fastball [and saying], ‘Here, hit it.' Here they're working with me to make the fastball better and learn to throw it at the right time and that's what's helped me.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"He got off to a decent start [in Charleston],\" said Manager Gaylen Pitts, \"but later location and walks were a problem for him. He got his confidence down low and I think he just needed a good couple free outings to get it back. I think they worked on him on a couple of mechanical things that helped him a little bit, but it's a game of confidence. If you don't have it, you're not going to be aggressive and you're going to back off, and I think that was probably what his problem was.\"
\r\n
\r\nJapa agreed that in Charleston, he did not fully trust his stuff and realized work needed to be done. Now he has solved his fastball problem, which is bad news for NY-Penn League hitters.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel more comfortable now here [in Staten Island],\" said Japa. \"Over there [in Charleston] I wasn't as confident in my fastball and I have been confident [here]. It wasn't because of my surroundings. It was just me. I just didn't feel comfortable at all.\"
\r\n
\r\nArmed with comfort, confidence, and a well-located fastball, Japa has dominated the NY-Penn League in his first two starts. On Tuesday night, Japa threw a no-hitter in his six innings of work, earning his second win of the season while posting a microscopic 0.79 ERA.
\r\n
\r\n\"I saw a guy who was aggressive in the strike zone with his fastball and pitched inside real well,\" Pitts said of Japa's Tuesday night performance. \"[He] got ahead of the hitters, pretty consistent and used all of his pitches, his change-up and his breaking ball. He had a good breaking ball. So they couldn't key in on just one pitch because he was ahead the whole night.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs Japa learns to master his fastball, to go along with his good curveball, he continues to work on developing his change-up, which Pitts believes is key to his success now and in the future.
\r\n
\r\n\"He threw a few [change-ups] last night,\" Pitts said. \"They weren't where he wants to get it yet, because he couldn't throw it for strikes consistently, but it's coming along. And at least he's throwing it. He's not afraid to use it. You gotta use it to show them that other pitch. If you're a two-pitch pitcher, it's easy to zero in. Everything's hard and, if you have just two pitches, it's a lot easier to hit. But if you've got that other thing to off-set it, you're gonna be in a lot better shape.\"
\r\n
\r\nJapa has improved at keeping runners off base, but holding them when they do get on remains a work in progress. He didn't allow a hit on Tuesday, but allowed one unearned run because a runner was able to steal second and third and score on a throwing error. Japa tried to become quicker to the plate when he was with Charleston.
\r\n
\r\n\"Last night he wasn't [quick to the plate],\" said Pitts. \"The guys ran on him pretty good, but he's been working on it. That's something when he gets to the higher [level] balls he's going to have to do, is hold the runner.\"
\r\n
\r\nJapa continues to work on it, and while he may not have solved the problem yet, focusing on holding the runner no longer distracts him from the next batter as it did in Charleston.
\r\n
\r\n\"I was too worried about runners on when they got on before,\" Japa said. \"But now I feel more comfortable and more relaxed. I've been able to work on those things so I feel a lot better now.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe better Japa feels, the worse opposing batters will feel in the batter's box. Having learned the need for location against more advanced hitters, Japa is having his way with the inexperienced batter he faces in Staten Island.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel that the hitters here [in the NY-Penn League] are a little too aggressive and I can play with them with my pitches and get them out easier,\" Japa said. \"Over there [in the South Atlantic League] the hitters are smarter. They have more experience. I think that hitters here have a disadvantage when it comes to me.\"
\r\n
\r\nJapa, though, did not come to Staten Island to avoid the challenge of more difficult hitters. On the contrary, after pitching four innings of one hit ball in High-A Tampa last year, Japa has a taste for an even greater challenge. Going to Tampa, in Extended Spring Training, was a preparation to ultimately get back to Tampa, in the Florida State League.
\r\n
\r\n\"That's the reason why I'm here,\" Japa said. \"I was pitching in a league stronger than this one. I wasn't doing as well. And that's why I thought it was better for me to kind of start over before I went down to Tampa to pitch. [I wanted] to get myself ready, to work with those guys, and be able to fit in with the kind of competition down there [in High-A Tampa].\"
\r\n
\r\nJapa already had High-A hopes, and now he has the fastball location to go with them.
\r\n
\r\n* Special thanks to Polo Burgos for his help in translating.
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