Couple days before his start Thursday, Michael King mentioned he was still trying to lock into the mechanics that helped him soar through the Yankees’ minor leagues in 2018. He showed some flashes in tuneup outings with Trenton, but hit some bumps as well. Even his first start with the RailRiders against Gwinnett had its highs (one run over the first three innings with three strikeouts and five groundouts) and its lows (a three-run fourth inning).

Pitching at PNC Field for the first time since a Governors’ Cup finals appearance Sept. 13, King looked locked in Thursday. Looked that way right away, too, striking out seven the first time through Pawtucket’s lineup. His final line: 6.2 innings, four hits, two runs, three walks and a career-high-tying 11 strikeouts.

“I definitely felt a lot better,” King said. “Mechanically and everything, timing wise — instead of having to think of anything, it was just going out there competing. It felt a lot like last year.”


King struck out the side on 13 pitches in the first inning, getting five swings and misses. Most of his success that first time through the lineup came thanks to his fastball (92-94 mph) and his changeup, which he was able to bury down and in against righties. He finished with 99 pitches, throwing 59 for strikes (that includes an 11-ball, seven-strike seventh inning where he walked two) and got 13 swings and misses.

“He’s a guy that’s extremely prepared,” RailRiders manager Jay Bell said. “That’s one of the things I like best about him. He prepares so well. He knows exactly how he wants to attack his opponent. He puts together a gameplan that’s, now here, it’s him putting together his own gameplan along with Tommy doing his prep work and then getting together and just collaborating on it. He just knows how to utilize the tools that he has. I think that’s the reason he had such a great deal of success last year, made the remarkable jump through the organization last year. And then this year, having come back off a little bit of injury — during that period of time, though, I know he did prep work. I know who he is as a player. I know he’s still working at, even whenever he wasn’t throwing.”

Breaking down his start by times through is interesting, too:

  • First time (1st-3rd innings): Seven strikeouts, two groundouts. … 39 pitches, 26 strikes. … Fastball 92-94 mph.
  • Second time (4th-5th innings): Five groundouts, no strikeouts. Two hits, one walk, one HBP. … 28 pitches, 16 strikes. … Fastball 90-92 mph.
  • Third time (6th-7th innings): Two runs, two hits, one homer. Two walks, four strikeouts, no groundouts. … 32 pitches, 17 strikes. … Fastball 90-92 mph.

First time is a lot of strikeouts, second time is a lot of weak contact, then third time was strikeouts, walks and the one bit of damage: a two-run homer by C.J. Chatham. King wasn’t happy about that pitch.

“Kratzy (catcher Erik Kratz) and I talked in the dugout,” he said. “I didn’t see what it was velo wise (it was a 90 mph fastball) but he said that was the slowest pitch I threw all day. And it was one of those where, once I got a man on, I tried to really command it instead of convict it. So, he said you’ve just got to throw it to that area and power through it, because it was a way too comfortable swing with the way I was pitching. It definitely locked me back in because I got a little pissed.”

He struck out four of the final seven batters he faced after the homer.

King still saw room for improvement. He said didn’t have control of his gloveside fastball — that two-seamer that breaks across lefties’ hips was such a good pitch for him in 2018 — and he’ll be focusing on that in his between-starts bullpens. He also said he’s working on a new grip for his slider and he didn’t throw that pitch until the third inning. He didn’t like the results he was getting, so he went back to his old grip after the fourth inning.

No doubt, this was a big step for King, a return to form after missing the first half of this season with a stress reaction in his arm. He suffered the injury shortly before big league spring training camp began, and originally was shooting for a May 1 return. The injury took longer to heal, however, and the 24-year-old wouldn’t get into a game until July 3.

“Once I came back, everything looked good on the MRI. And I wanted to get back as fast as possible. I don’t think there was any — there was definitely no like, rushing me back too fast and that’s what happened. It was just kind of still there. It’s a tough thing to see on an MRI. I was talking to Dr. (Christopher) Ahmad about it, where you can see extreme improvement, and sometimes that is perfect. Or you can not really see any improvement and it still works. So, he said it’s a tough injury. It’s a feel injury, where if I’m feeling good, I’m going to keep going through it. Luckily, after the two months, that’s what worked. But it definitely was a long road.”

Deivi the reliever

After King exited the game with the tying runs on base and two outs in the seventh, the RailRiders turned to their newest reliever to get out of the jam.

Deivi Garcia needed just four pitches to strike out Cole Sturgeon to end the inning.

Bell said Wednesday that Garcia would move out of the RailRiders starting rotation and into the bullpen to preserve his workload — he’s already at a career high for innings — and to see if he could be a relief option for New York in September.

“I felt really, really good and I was preparing myself to pitch that way,” Garcia said through a translator.

“I was preparing myself, like warming up earlier, and trying to get my arm going so I was ready.”

Garcia continued King’s strikeout run, punching out five in two-plus innings. He allowed three hits and one run. The run scored on a two-out double in the ninth, an inning Garcia started strikeout, groundout, flyout, but Josh Ockimey managed to reach first base after striking out on a wild pitch.

“I was excited to see it,” Garcia said of King’s performance. “I had some energy. When I saw he left runners on the bases, I was just trying to get that guy to strike out.”

As for his Bullpen Arsenal, Garcia’s fastball had its usual velocity, and he managed to use all four of his pitches. His first pitch out of the ‘pen was a 76-mph curveball that he bent in for a strike against Sturgeon.

“I’m going to keep doing it. I’m going to keep trying to work on my four pitches,” Garcia said. “As soon as I have those pitches going, I can strike out (hitters) and get some outs.”

King and Garcia combined to strike out 16 in 8.2 innings. Chance Adams, who has also moved into the RailRiders bullpen for the rest of the season, stranded the tying run on second in the ninth to pick up his first save of the season.

“Phenomenal all the way through,” Bell said. “Mike did a fantastic job. Deivi did a great job, too. And Chance came in, got the final out of the game. Just overall, it was just a terrific performance. It would’ve been nice to get Mike through the seventh and give Deivi a clean inning, but it probably benefits Deivi a little bit to get in there and have to enter an inning with runners on. Really impressive. All three of them did a nice job tonight.”

Photo: Jake Danna Stevens / Staff photographer