Small changes making a big difference

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
12:30
AM ET


NEW YORK -- The Yankees' additions at the trade deadline might have seemed incremental at best, but so far, the improvement in the team has been noticeable in the six days that have gone by since.

Chase Headley has played an excellent third base and belted a home run off Justin Verlander in the fifth inning that tied the game at one in Wednesday night's game, which was eventually won 5-1 by the Yankees. Stephen Drew made two errors on one play Wednesday but knocked the cover off the ball in Boston over the weekend and played a pretty good second base for a guy who hadn't played there since he was 15. Esmil Rogers has looked good in both his relief outings.

And Chris Capuano, while technically not a trade-deadline acquisition -- the Yankees picked him up on July 24 from the Rockies, who signed him after he was released by the Red Sox -- has now given the Yankees three solid outings, including outpitching Verlander in a matchup that, on paper, looked like a gross mismatch.

[+] EnlargeChris Capuano
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsYanks fill-in Chris Capuano threw a beauty of a game, going 6 2/3 with eight K's and one walk.
But while Verlander left the game trailing 2-1 after allowing solo homers to Headley and Brian McCann, Capuano allowed no earned runs in his 6⅔ innings, striking out eight, walking only one and, perhaps most importantly, neutralizing Miguel Cabrera, who had previously tormented him by hitting .391 in 23 career at-bats with four home runs.

Because he left with the score tied in the seventh, Capuano had to settle for a no-decision. Adam Warren, who lived dangerously but pitched excellently for 1⅓ innings, got the win.

But the pitching performance of the night belonged to Capuano, who, in his brief time as a Yankee, looks like a find.

"I’ve seen him do this before," manager Joe Girardi said. "And that was one of the reasons we went and got him. If I'm not mistaken, he did it to us last year here. So I mean, he does know how to pitch, and he gave us a great performance tonight."

Girardi was referring to last June 19, when Capuano, then a Los Angeles Dodger, shut the Yankees out for six innings on three hits.

"He knows how to change speeds, he knows how to move the ball in and out," Girardi said. "He used his curveball and he used his changeup extremely well. Him and [McCann] had a good game plan."

"You knew it was going to be a close game," Capuano said of facing Verlander, who won the Cy Young in 2011 but has struggled for much of this season with a 4.57 ERA. "Justin maybe didn't have quite the velocity on his fastball, but he was really pitching tonight. He was making great pitches all night. It was big to win that game and have a chance to win the series tomorrow."

[+] EnlargeYanks Celebrate
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Yanks' new pieces have put a pep in their step.
For all the injuries to their pitching staff, the Yankees have no complaints with the substitutes who have stepped in to fill the holes. On Monday, it was Brandon McCarthy -- acquired on July 6 for Vidal Nuno -- outduelling Max Scherzer, the reigning AL Cy Young winner. On Tuesday, Hiroki Kuroda pitched David Price to a standstill, although the Yankees lost in 12. And on Wednesday, it was Capuano going head-to-head with Verlander.

"He was phenomenal," McCann said. "What a job, obviously, by him, but how about all three nights going against the caliber of pitchers that we faced? I feel like our guys have stepped up toe-to-toe and either outpitched them or been right there."

On Thursday, it will be rookie Shane Greene's turn to go up against a Cy Young candidate, Rick Porcello, who is 13-5 with a 3.18 ERA.

"Well, it just shows you what our guys have done pitching," Girardi said. "We’ve pitched extremely well so far in this series, but it doesn’t get any easier tomorrow."

On the contrary, things have gotten a little easier and a whole lot better for the Yankees over the past six days, in large part due to changes that, at the time they were made, seemed too small to make much of a difference.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.269 15 67 69
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Teixeira 21
RBIJ. Ellsbury 67
RB. Gardner 81
OPSB. Gardner .755
WM. Tanaka 12
ERAH. Kuroda 3.81
SOM. Tanaka 135