Yender Caramo may not have begun the year as a starter, but he's showing he belongs in the rotation.
The Royals prospect allowed three hits and two walks while striking out five over eight scoreless innings on Saturday night as Double-A Northwest Arkansas beat visiting San Antonio, 5-2.
Caramo (4-7) threw 59 of 88 pitches for strikes and recorded 11 ground-ball outs. Despite the 24-year-old right-hander's low pitch count, Naturals pitching coach Steve Luebber said he felt that matching Caramo's previous best of eight innings, set on Aug. 31, 2013 while with Rookie-level Idaho Falls, was his limit for the night.
"That was good for him," Luebber said. "He was tired. I went out to the mound with one hitter left and you could see he was a little tired. He spun off a few pitches and a couple of arm slots missed up, which is kind of a sign for him, so he was about at the end of his rope there,"
The native of Venezuela began the year in the bullpen and was making his seventh start for Northwest Arkansas. After posting a 2.58 ERA in 24 relief appearances, Caramo has a 2.72 ERA and has limited opponents to a .226 batting average as a starter.
"Yender started off the year in the bullpen doing various roles," Luebber said. "He was very good, especially in June and July, and we started giving him some starts. He's a strike-thrower, he has a nice sinking fastball and his other pitches at times are real good. As long as he stays aggressive, he'll have some quick innings and a lot of ground balls. And he's starting to learn his peripheral pitches.
"He'd been pitching well and he showed that he could pitch several innings without a big number of pitches. We liked what he was doing and we had some player moves and he was a real good candidate. I've had him the last two years and he's had situations where he's been in a piggyback, so that wasn't totally unfamiliar for him."
Caramo's ability to keep his fastball down in the strike zone is a big reason for his success, according to his pitching coach.
"His sinking fastball, he'll range from 88-96 [mph] with that fastball," Luebber said. "As long as he stays aggressive and keeps his arm speed, he'll throw some that are really impressive. He's also gotten to where he'll [throw the] four-seam for certain situations and locate the fastball."
Coming off a start in which he surrendered three runs on four hits and four walks over five innings against San Antonio on Aug. 14, Caramo delivered a bounce-back outing that impressed Luebber.
"He had one game where he began not very aggressive and I started looking for a red flag and he told me every time that he was [healthy]." he said. "It was one of those things where he didn't get off to a good beginning and felt for some pitches. As we worked on the side, he got it back this game and pitched real well."
Daniel Stumpf took over for Caramo and allowed two runs on two hits and a walk while fanning two in the ninth.
Corey Toups was 3-for-4 with a solo homer and fell a triple short of the cycle while Alfredo Escalera hit an RBI double for the Naturals.
Padres No. 18 prospect Dinelson Lamet (5-7) started for San Antonio and gave up one run on five hits and a walk with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. Gabriel Quintana delivered a two-run double for the Missions, giving him eight RBIs in his last five games.
Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich.