Cleveland demotes struggling setup man James Karinchak to Triple-A

Cleveland demotes struggling setup man James Karinchak to Triple-A

Less than two months ago Cleveland right-hander James Karinchak was among the most dominant relievers in the sport. Now he’s being demoted to the minors.

On Saturday, the club announced the struggling Karinchak has been sent to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for first baseman Bobby Bradley, who was activated off the injured list. The move comes after Karinchak failed to retire any of the three batters he faced Friday night, and allowed a go-ahead three-run home run.

“As you go along and get past the All-Star break, you try to kind of match him up in situations where there will be some success,” acting manager DeMarlo Hale told reporters, including’s Joe Noga, following Karinchak’s latest meltdown. “He’s a core [player] here and he’s got to figure it out. With his work ethic and the work he’s putting in, he’ll figure it out.”  

As recently as July 5, Karinchak had a 2.41 ERA with a stellar 42.4 percent strikeout rate. The 25-year-old made his MLB debut as a September call-up in 2019, then last year he pitched to a 2.67 ERA with a 48.6 percent strikeout rate in 27 innings during the shortened 60-game season. He was as dominant as any reliever in the game.

The past two months have been real grind, however. Karinchak has allowed 15 runs in his last 17 innings while walking 10 and striking out only 13. That’s a 16.0 percent strikeout rate, and at one point he recorded only one strikeout in a span of 23 batters. His ability to miss bats has almost vanished, and opponents are making him pay for it.

It must be noted Karinchak’s nosedive coincides perfectly with MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances. His performance started to slip right after the crackdown went into effect on June 20, and his spin rates have declined noticeably:

James Karinchak’s spin rates have declined precipitously since the foreign substance crackdown.
Baseball Savant

MLB isn’t so concerned about a little pine tar or sunscreen. The crackdown is intended to eliminate the use of foreign substances like Spider Tack, which pitchers used to enhance their spin rates and thus increase their swing and miss rates. A pitcher losing, say, 50-75 rpm of spin falls within normal variance. A pitcher losing 200 rpm or more suggests foreign substances usage, however.

Karinchak’s spin rate decline is in the 300 rpm range, and while that decline since the crackdown isn’t definitive proof he used the sticky stuff, the evidence sure is damning. MLB cracked down on the foreign substances pitchers used to increase spin, and since then Karinchak’s spin rates have dipped significantly. We can all connect the dots here.

“I can’t speak for James and specifically what he feels. I don’t know exactly how he’s gone about things in terms of that throughout the season,” Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis told reporters, including the Associated Press, when asked about Karinchak and foreign substances. “I was say this: sticky stuff, generally speaking, if it didn’t make a difference, they wouldn’t have made it illegal. But in his specific case, that’s something that you’d have to ask him because I’m not really privy or allowed to be in terms of everything he may have done or may not have done.”

It’s unclear how long Karinchak will spend in Triple-A. It could be a short stint with rosters set to expand Sept. 1. That said, the Triple-A season does not end until Oct. 3 this year. Cleveland could keep Karinchak in Triple-A the rest of the season, and if that happens, it’ll be just enough time to push his free agency back from the 2025-26 offseason to the 2026-27 offseason.

Cleveland comes into Saturday with a 63-63 record. They are 22-32 in their last 54 games and are 10 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central. They’re nine games behind the second wild card spot.

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