Chase the Ace? Not quite, but ...
June, 13, 2014
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com
USA TODAY SportsIt takes all kinds to make a pitching staff -- especially an injury-ravaged one. Masahiro Tanaka and Chase Whitley are doing their part.SEATTLE -- When it comes to starting pitching, every team would love to have Sensational. Most, however, are happy to settle for Reliable.
Luckily, and surprisingly, the Yankees suddenly find they are blessed with both.
In this corner, representing Sensational, the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka. And in that corner, they have the very definition of Reliable: Chase Whitley.
In between, there is a trio of question marks.
But with 60 percent of the Yankees' starting rotation injured, that is probably as much as they could have hoped for at this point of the season.
In fact, it might even be more than they could have expected.
Before this season, Whitley had never been a regular starting pitcher at any level of professional baseball. Now, of necessity, the Yankees are relying on him to give them reliable starts every five days. And remarkably, Whitley has obliged.
For the first time in his admittedly brief major league career, Whitley worked into the eighth inning Thursday night at Safeco Field, and if manager Joe Girardi hadn't been so cautious with him and so determined to get Matt Thornton some work, Whitley would have finished the eighth inning, too.
As it turned out, Whitley gave the Yankees enough to complete a three-game sweep of the Mariners with a 6-3 victory Thursday night, their first three-game sweep in Seattle since the Bill Clinton era. He also gave them reason to believe that at least twice out of every five days, they will have a better-than-reasonable chance to win.
Whitley allowed five hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings, walked no one, struck out six and worked so quickly and efficiently that Derek Jeter said something about him similar to what he had said about Tanaka on Wednesday night: "He's fun to play behind."
That's because Whitley throws strikes, which sounds simple but is actually quite remarkable for a 24-year-old who was thrust into the role of emergency starter on May 15 to face the Mets, no less, at Citi Field.
As Girardi said, "We had only seen him as a reliever. None of us knew what to expect from him as a starter."
In fact, Whitley wasn't sure what to expect from himself. The place was jumping, as it always is for a Subway Series game, and Whitley was fresh up from Triple-A Scranton. "You just want to get through that first inning," he said.
Whitley set the Mets down 1-2-3 in that first inning, including an inning-ending strikeout of David Wright, and thought to himself, "OK, my stuff plays."
"You realize it's the same game you've always played," he said. "Guys take the same swings they've been taking against you for the past three years in the minors."
Whitley got a no-decision that night, but six starts later, with a little run support, he might well be 6-0. In his five starts before Thursday, the Yankees had scored a total of 10 runs for him, and in three of those starts he was either leading or tied 0-0 when he left the game. It was not until his previous outing, against the Royals, that Whitley earned his first major league win, working seven innings of five-hit, two-run ball.
Thursday, he was just as good, allowing two runs again, one of them on a solo home run by Logan Morrison, the first homer he had given up all season in the majors or minors. Even more remarkably, he again did not walk a batter, making it four consecutive starts, comprising 24 2/3 innings and some 114 consecutive batters, since he has issued a walk. (He did hit Robinson Cano on the elbow pad with a pitch in the third.)
That indicates that whatever fear Whitley might have had about throwing strikes to big league hitters has long since vanished.
"That's trusting in his stuff," Girardi said. "He doesn’t beat himself. He doesn’t walk people. He gets ahead in the count. And he's mixed in an outstanding changeup with his fastballs and sliders. He gets ahead in the count. He’s done a really good job for us."
To be sure, Whitley had some help from his outfield, notably a leaping catch at the center-field fence by Jacoby Ellsbury that might have robbed Cano of a two-run homer -- "My glove was above the fence," Ellsbury said, "but I'm not sure how close I was to the wall" -- and another by Brett Gardner on Mike Zunino after Ellsbury had left the game with a tight right hip.
But Whitley also helped himself -- his biggest pitch of the night was a fastball he sneaked by the dangerous Kyle Seager to end the third with two runners on, and he struck out two batters in the fourth, one with a slider, the other with a changeup.
Nothing sensational, you understand, but on this team, sensational goes only once every five days.
The other four, the Yankees will gladly settle for reliable. And now, on at least one of those days, they are pretty sure they will get that out of Whitley.
Ellsbury's sore but expects to play: Girardi pulled Ellsbury in the seventh after he reported feeling tightness in the right hip he tweaked over the weekend in Kansas City. Ellsbury said he first felt it on that sensational catch on Cano's drive and further aggravated it eluding a close pitch from Dominic Leone in the sixth.
"I’m not concerned with it, I expect to be in there tomorrow. I think it was more of a preventative thing," Ellsbury said of leaving the game.
Girardi said no tests were planned for Ellsbury. "I expect that he'll be a player for me [Friday night]," Girardi said.
Before he left the game, Ellsbury had hit a two-run homer off starter Roenis Elias in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.
And the Oscar goes to ...: Gardner, for faking out everyone in Safeco Field when he leapt high for Zunino's drive to center but failed to immediately show the ball, giving the appearance Zunino had hit a home run.
"I wasn't trying to," Gardner said. "You assume everyone sees it go in the glove. I guess being right at the top of the wall, everyone thought by my reaction that it was out, maybe."
Coming later: Game 1 of a three-game weekend series against the Athletics in Oakland, David Phelps (1-4, 4.88) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (6-2, 2.83), first pitch at 10:05 p.m. ET. The clubhouse will open at 6:35 p.m., and I'll have the lineups and all the pregame notes and news shortly thereafter, so check in later. And, as always, thanks for reading.