By Brendan Kuty
OAKLAND, Calif. — When the Yankees acquired starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi in the offseason, their goal was to take the righty who allowed the most hits in the National League in 2014 and help him realize his strikeout-artist potential.
The Yankees knew it was going to take a while to transform the 25-year-old. And apparently they’re not too close yet, considering Eovaldi’s back to leading the league in hits allowed.
Though manager Joe Girardi praised Eovaldi for working out of jams and minimizing damage in the Yankees 5-3 win over the A’s at O.co Coliseum Sunday, it was Eovaldi who, once again, put himself in the pickles to begin with.
He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, the second time in three starts he failed to get out of the fifth inning. And Eovaldi might have been out much sooner had rookie left fielder Ramon Flores, playing his first career game, not make a pair of spectacular plays early — one a throw to home, gunning a runner, the other a diving foul-territory catch.
Also, Eovaldi gave up three runs and struck out just three, and the 11 hits he surrendered gave him a season total of 76 — the most in baseball. Last season, he led the NL with 223 hits allowed.
Eovaldi’s strikeout total, by the way? He’s at No. 74 with 42 through 10 starts.
Eovaldi said he was upset with the way he couldn’t finish hitters.
“It’s one of the most frustrating things, I feel like,” Eovaldi said, (to try to) throw the ball down in the dirt, then it’s middle or just up. I just have to do a better job of executing those pitches.
“My fastball felt good, I just wasn’t locating very well. When I was would get ahead of guys, I wasn’t finishing off the batters. A lot of my offspeed pitches were up and middle. They were putting the ball in play and it felt like they were finding every hole.”
Of course, that’s been Eovaldi’s issue since breaking into the league in 2011 with the Dodgers, who sent him to Miami in 2012. The Yankees got Eovaldi, essentially, for utility man Martin Prado.
And it’s what Eovaldi has worked on with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Because no matter how good of a fastball you throw — and Eovaldi’s averages about 95 mph, among the fastest in the game among starters — major-league hitters can handle it if they know it’s coming.
Girardi acknowledged things haven’t come easy at all for Eovaldi this season, but added that he believes he’s on the right track.
“As I’ve said all along, we really like this kid and he’s a work in progress,” the manager said. “But we believe he’s making steps in the right direction and sometimes you’re going to have nights like this.”