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Spokane Indians reliever Angel Chivilli learning on the job in second full season in minors

Jul. 24—Most big-league relief pitchers were once starting pitchers who somewhere in their development were moved to the bullpen due to stamina, control or lack of a third viable major league pitch.

A lot of times, that transition comes later in the minor league journey, or even once the pitcher reaches the bigs.

For Colorado Rockies prospect — and current Spokane Indians reliever Angel Chivilli — that transition came almost from the start of his professional career.

Chivilli signed with the organization during the 2018-19 international signing period and quickly impressed with an easy arm action, mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a knack for the strike zone. The native of La Victoria, Dominican Republic, spent two summers as a starting pitcher in the Dominican Summer League before coming stateside, where the Rockies shifted him to the bullpen in the Arizona Complex League.

Last year, his first in full-season ball, he saved 10 games for Low-A Fresno in 23 appearances with 28 strikeouts over 25 innings. Chivilli quickly shot up the Rockies prospect lists — he currently sits at No. 27 in the midseason update.

It’s been an up-and-down season in Spokane for the 6-foot-2, 160-pound 20-year-old.

In his first 18 games, he allowed 20 earned runs over 181/3 innings (9.82 ERA) with four losses.

After an appearance on June 4, when he allowed three runs on five hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, he became a different pitcher.

In his next 17 games, Chivilli made good on 10 of his next 11 save opportunities with a 2.11 ERA over 211/3 innings, allowing runs in just two out of the 17 appearances.

He currently leads the Northwest League in saves with 15.

Indians pitching coach Ryan Kibler said the change was more mental than mechanical.

“It’s aggressiveness. A ‘this is important’ mindset. And we’re gonna take it as ‘It’s important,’ ” Kibler said. “It’s just learning the game a little bit and what that role entails.”

Kibler stressed that Chivilli possesses all the traits the big league club wants in a bullpen arm, but that he “loses focus” on occasion. Now that Chivilli is in his second full professional season, Kibler acknowledged Chivilli’s tender age but doesn’t want him to use that as an excuse.

“It’s not a ‘spring training, get ready for the season’ outing. It’s not an extended spring training outing. It’s a big outing under the lights in front of 4,000 fans and a team that needs a guy to step up late in games like that,” Kibler said.

“It’s much needed and it’s important. So, when you get across the (base)line, let’s go ahead and take it that way. And I’ve seen that mentality start to come into play, and the results show how effective that is.”

Chivilli’s string of success over the past six weeks has been impressive, but the team has not asked him to pitch more than one inning at a time much over the span.

On Sunday, the Indians were enjoying a 6-2 lead against Vancouver when Chivilli entered in the seventh inning. He was superb in the frame, striking out the side with a full count walk sandwiched in.

The Indians scored twice in the bottom half to make it 8-1, then Chivilli came back out for the eighth. He was roughed up for three runs on five hits, an error and a wild pitch. In the outing, he threw 38 pitches — a season-high — and 27 for strikes.

Juan Mejia, another reliever with a mid-90s fastball, was brought on for the save situation in the ninth and gave up three runs on three walks and was lifted. Tyler Ahearn got the final out with the winning run at the plate.

In what was once a blowout, the Indians held on for an 11-8 win.

“We wanted to get Chivilli two innings,” Kibler said. “We’d like for him to be a two-inning guy for his future and his development. And we wanted Mejia to experience that save situation. I think that would be good for his development too.

“So, we talked this week a little bit and we went ahead and committed to it, and it barely worked out.”

It was an example of how the organization makes a player development decision while trying to win ballgames in real time.

“Chivilli’s not used to the two-inning stint, he ran out of gas a little bit. Pitch count got up there,” Kibler said. “And then Mejia just didn’t have his best (Sunday), missing (the strike zone). But a good experience for him. It’ll be better out there next time. But it’s uncharted territory. These guys need to experience that.”