Whitley finally wins, could be here to stay

KANSAS CITY -- Baseball fans of America, do not skip so quickly past the obscure names of those late-round picks your favorite team is announcing in this week's draft. You never know when another Chase Whitley might be lurking somewhere around, oh, the 15th round.

A college reliever when the New York Yankees selected him in Round No. 15 four years ago, Whitley has been converted to a starter, worked hard -- darn hard, in fact -- and turned into one of the brightest young pitchers in the majors, seemingly showing greater and greater promise with every impressive start.

His fifth one probably was his best. Going seven solid innings -- two innings more than his first four outings -- Whitley gave up just two runs on five hits, struck out three and did not walk a man while leading the Yankees past the Kansas City Royals, 4-2.

Following a lackluster 2-5 homestand, this was just what the Yanks needed to kick off a 10-game, three-city road swing.

For Whitley, it was doubly special. Not only did he help get the Yankees off and running, he also got his first major league win and kept his ERA at a more-than-respectable 2.42. In his five starts, the Yankees are now 4-1.

"I don't think I threw a strike in the bullpen before the game," said Whitley, who the Yankees plucked out of Troy University.

The pitcher, manager Joe Girardi and catcher Brian McCann all agreed that the key to Whitley's memorable night in Kansas City was a rapidly improving slider.

"Tonight I didn't throw very good changeups and I was able to go to that pitch," Whitley said. "In the past, where I've struggled at times, it's been because of inconsistent command of something and not having another pitch to go to. I think that was key today."

He refused to let the shaky bullpen warm-up worry him. "I stayed with my routine and knew that once the game started, I'd be fine," he said.

Whitley hardly labored at all through the unseasonably cool evening, crisply dispatching the Royals with just 87 pitches, including 51 for strikes.

"I've heard guys say usually when they don't have good stuff in the bullpen, they translate to the game and it's really good," he said. "So I was like, 'Well, maybe that will happen today.'"

The game ball sat safely in his locker stall. In fact, there were two -- one for him, and one for his parents. "I got it, yeah," he said with a grin.

McCann, who provided all the runs Whitley would need with a three-run double off Jeremy Guthrie in the third inning, was as happy as anyone for his battery mate's first big-league win.

"Yeah, tonight's a big night. We're all happy for him," the catcher said. "He's worked really hard to get here, to do this."

Strong starting: Whitley is hardly alone in giving the Yankees quality innings. In the team's past 22 games, New York's starters have a 2.91 ERA. Their 2.93 ERA entering Friday's game was the best in the majors during that stretch.

Want a win? Start a rookie: In the 13 road games started by rookie pitchers this year, the Yankees are 12-1.

Challenging: Girardi is now 10-4 in instant replay challenges, after getting a call overturned Friday night.