Brandon Finnegan stepped off the mound Saturday and soaked in the environment. He had just struck out Jacoby Ellsbury for the first punchout of his career, and he wanted to remember the moment. He swung his head around the ballpark and noticed the 45,262 fans packed inside Yankee Stadium.
“I was like ‘Oh, wow,’” said Finnegan, the Royals’ first-round draft pick in June. “Didn’t even notice that many people were here.”
The roar of the crowd alerted him to his next opposing hitter. As “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G. flowed through the stadium’s speaker system, Finnegan turned to face Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
“I didn’t have to look to know who it was,” Finnegan said. “It’s kind of hard not to hear a place like this when that guy walks to the plate.”
Finnegan calmed himself. He treated Jeter as any other batter. Finnegan challenged him with a 94-mphf fastball and Jeter could not catch up. The strikeout punctuated a sterling, two-inning big-league debut for Finnegan, a 21-year-old southpaw from Texas Christian University, in a 6-2 loss to the Yankees. He retired all six batters he faced, and displayed all the qualities that encourage the Royals: A steady fastball, a sweeping slider, an improving changeup and a steely determination on the mound.
When the Royals called up Finnegan this week, manager Ned Yost indicated Finnegan needed to prove himself in low-leverage situations before he could receive more critical assignments. Finnegan passed his first test with flying colors. Yost’s eyes lit up when he spoke about the rookie, and relayed he was impressed Finnegan “wasn’t freaked out by anything.”
Now, when will Finnegan move up into a more prominent spot in the bullpen?
“Well, you bump him up incrementally,” Yost said. “He handled the low-leverage situation really well. We’ll just kind of keep bumping him up from there. And see what we’ve got. But I’ll tell you what: His stuff was good. He threw strikes. He wasn’t overwhelmed.”
Finnegan worked as a starter in Class A Wilmington earlier this summer. The team shifted him into the bullpen in Class AA Northwest Arkansas to prepare him for this opportunity. Team officials feel his arsenal could aid the club down the stretch.
“I just looked at it the same way I did when I was in college,” Finnegan said. “It’s still the same game. No different. Of course, there’s bigger names, and a lot more people in the stands. But it’s still baseball.”