Working under an owner unwilling to spend what it took to acquire more reliable pitchers, Brian Cashman had to get creative this offseason. He placed what was essentially a pack of long bets on arms that had barely appeared in the last year or even longer — Corey Kluber, Domingo German, Jameson Taillon, and, eventually, Luis Severino.
It’s still early, but the returns on those bets are looking pretty good.
The Yankees beat the Rangers 2-0 on Thursday afternoon. The Bombers’ third straight win clinched their sixth straight series win. The Yankees (25-19) went 7-3 on their 10-game road trip while the Rangers (19-27) have lost nine of their last 10.
A day after the Yankees’ biggest reclamation project, Corey Kluber, threw a historic no-hitter, Domingo German threw seven shutout innings, with six hits and five strikeouts on 87 pitches. The Yankee pitchers have now tossed 22 straight scoreless innings.
“Any time he gets behind in the count, he’s just so unpredictable,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Because he truly does have really good command of all his pitches, so it’s hard to really gear up for anything … He has the ability to spin it, but also that changeup to get him back into counts, it really complements the rest of his stuff really well.”
German missed all of the 2020 season with a domestic violence suspension. There were major questions about his viability as a 2021 Yankee: He showed rust in the Dominican winter league, seemed to threaten to retire multiple times and received a cold reception when he first returned to the team.
All he’s done since rejoining the rotation is pitch as well as ever. German won 18 games in 2019, and he’s been arguably even better this year, pitching to a 3.05 ERA in eight starts. Before Thursday’s game, his ERA+ was 112, meaning 12% better than league average. That’s almost exactly where he was in 2019, a great indicator of how much more pitcher-friendly the league and ball have become in such a short time — his ERA was almost a full run higher that year.
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“They have strong hitters with a lot of power. Going into this game, we talked about how effective the changeup could be, executing down and away,” German said through team interpreter Marlon Abreu. “It gives you more confidence to execute your plan when you know you have an excellent defense behind you.”
The Yankees made several slick plays behind him, including a spectacular one by DJ LeMahieu at third base that may have kept the shutout alive in the fifth.
For six innings on Thursday, Dane Dunning matched German, shutting out the Yankees. But when the Rangers brought in reliever John King for the seventh, Aaron Boone brought the big guns off the bench. Gio Urshela had his second clutch pinch-hit in less than a week and Aaron Judge had the first pinch hit of his career. The pair of singles gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, and that’s all they would need.
Chad Green pitched a scoreless eighth and Aroldis Chapman finished the shutout. Chapman is off to an outrageous start: He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 17 innings and has struck out 36.
These Yankees do have one vulnerability designed to drive their crankiest fans insane: their baserunning. Mike Ford and Urshela were both nabbed rounding a base too widely.
Ford’s out was, generously, down to a heads-up play by Rangers infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who tagged second base for a forceout, then twisted his body to catch Ford unawares at third instead of throwing to first. (The double play, the second of the day, was the Yankees’ 48th of the season for an MLB lead. They hit into five on Wednesday night in Kluber’s no-hitter.)
Then Urshela ended the seventh-inning rally as the Rangers again successfully threw behind a Yankee, this time after Judge’s single. Urshela was also thrown out at third in the ninth after trying to advance on a bobbled pitch. He swiped his hand around the side of third base but just got a handful of Rangers infielder Charlie Culberson’s spikes. He appeared to be in pain after, but Boone said he believed it was a non-issue.
“Just a little hurt feelings is all,” Boone said. Urshela also said it was “fine.”
“We’ve gotta be better,” Boone said of his team’s baserunning. “I feel like we’ve cleaned it up a little bit these last couple weeks. Obviously we’re not a fast team that’s stealing a lot of bases and things like that.”
With pitching like this, though, and even half of the Yankees’ sluggers healthy and bashing, the baserunning is — for now — simply a minor annoyance, a pimple on a winning team.
The Yankees put outfielder Ryan LaMarre on the injured list after he strained his hamstring running to first base on Wednesday night. With Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton out and Aaron Judge coming off the bench to pinch-hit, the Yankees rolled out a lineup that included natural infielders Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar in the corners and Brett Gardner in center. Judge eventually replaced Wade in right.
Rougned Odor returned after spending one day on the paternity list. His wife had a daughter on Tuesday.