Yankees Manager Aaron Boone employed a novel line of reasoning to explain why Sonny Gray, the No. 3 starter in his pitching rotation, had struggled so much in his first four starts of this season.
“I think a lot of it has to do with his talent,” Boone said before Gray faced the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. “He gets great movement on his pitches, he’s got really good stuff, he’s able to do things not a lot of guys are able to do. I sometimes feel it’s a case of, he feels like he can always make the perfect pitch.”
It was a euphemistic way of saying Gray’s pitching had been less than aggressive. Or, in baseball parlance, he was nibbling.
“He needs to go out and attack hitters,” Boone said. “And I think success will follow.”
In an effort to help Gray find that success, Boone on Wednesday matched him with Austin Romine, the Yankees’ backup catcher with whom Gray has performed markedly better than with Gary Sanchez, the starting catcher. It also helped that Gray was throwing to the Twins, who over the past 16 seasons have been a reliable punching bag for the Yankees.
While the results were better — Gray lasted four and two-thirds innings, his second-longest outing of the season, in the Yankees’ 7-4 victory — the improvement was only incremental, and probably still not enough for a pitcher whom Boone has described as “very important” to the Yankees’ success this season. The fog that shrouded Yankee Stadium on a misty night in the Bronx served as an appropriate metaphor for the uncertainty that continues to surround Gray’s performance.
But since Gray’s importance to the Yankees can scarcely be overestimated — they have no viable alternative to Gray either in their bullpen or in the team’s farm system — Boone preferred to see Gray’s abbreviated outing as a positive step.
“I was really encouraged by what I saw,” Boone said. “I thought his compete was really good. I think it’s about him gaining some momentum and some confidence and the results will start to follow.”
But the manager conceded that Gray was “still nibbling a little bit.”
“Not a perfect outing by any means,” Boone said. “But I thought a positive outing for him.”
Gray agreed. “I felt good out there,” he said. “I wasn’t able necessarily to get into some type of rhythm but at the end of the day, when you come away with a win you need to go home happy. It was a struggle at times but I had the right mentality, I had the right mind-set. Looking at numbers or looking at a box score you might have one thought but I thought that I stayed in the game a lot better than I have lately.”
Gray allowed two runs in the first inning when Miguel Sano sent a changeup into the visitors’ bullpen past left-center field. The pitch came in at 89 miles per hour, left Sano’s bat at 115 m.p.h. and thudded loudly off the back wall some 440 feet away.
Luckily for Gray, the Yankees’ offense, which outscored the Twins 22-4 in the first two games of this four-game series, remained in high gear for the third game, against Minnesota starter Lance Lynn. They got a run back in the bottom of the first on a single by — who else? — Didi Gregorius, and another in the third on a solo homer, also by Gregorius, who leads the major leagues with 29 R.B.I. and is tied with Mike Trout for the lead in home runs, with 10.
The Yankees added three more runs in the same inning on a homer by Tyler Austin, and a sixth run through heads-up baserunning in the fourth by Gleyber Torres, who alertly broke for home on Aaron Judge’s flyout to shallow right. Their final run scored on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Giancarlo Stanton in the eighth.
But what should have been another comfortable victory became briefly uncomfortable thanks to another shaky outing from Gray. Although his velocity was slightly up from his three-and-one-third-inning performance against the Blue Jays last Friday, his command was spottier. He walked four batters in the first three innings and needed 104 pitches to record just 14 outs, an average of nearly eight pitches per batter. He allowed three runs on six hits and a season-high five walks.
Gray pitched well to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth, but Boone was not about to tempt fate again when Gray found himself in a similar spot in the fifth. After walking Eduardo Escobar with runners on second and third — and being saved by Romine, who kept three consecutive sliders that bounced from getting past him — Boone pulled Gray in favor of Chad Green, who retired Logan Morrison to leave three runners stranded.
Having lasted less than five innings, Gray settled for a no-decision. The Twins added a run in the seventh off Green, who departed with the bases loaded and one out, Chasen Shreve came on to strikeout Morrison and escape further damage when Austin made a spectacular sliding catch of Grossman’s foul pop down the left-field line.
Published at Thu, 26 Apr 2018 03:28:22 +0000