Saturday, April 20, 2024

Schmidt Big Part Of Rotation Fueling Yankees Fast Start; Soto Finishes Off Rays


Clarke Schmidt pitching to Isaac Paredes before inducing a double play. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Yankees have raced out to a 14-6 record, through Friday, and their starting rotation has been a big part of it - even more remarkable considering that starting five does not include 2023 American League Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole.

Yankees starters have posted a 3.38 ERA (earned run average) in 20 starts this season, as they have surrendered just 39 runs in 104.0 innings pitched. They have allowed three-runs-or-fewer in 17 starts, and two-or-fewer in 13 of them. Their starting five has not allowed more than four runs in an outing yet this season.

Clarke Schmidt, who pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, is the only one in the rotation who was consistently a starter in the 2023 campaign, in which he had a solid season, and he has picked up where he left off. 

The pair of left-handers in the rotation, who both had injuries hinder their ‘23 seasons - Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon - have been solid, with Nasty Nestor 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts, while Rodon is also 1-1 with a 3.66 ERA. Marcus Stroman, in his first year in The Bronx, has a 2.42 ERA in his four starts, while also holding a 1-1 record. Luis Gil, the Yankees prospect back in the rotation after an injury-plagued 2023 season, has a 3.86 ERA in three starts, and he is 0-1.

Schmidt had possibly his best outing of the season on Friday night, as he went 5 1/3 innings, and allowed one run on seven hits and did not allow a walk, with seven strikeouts, and 102 pitches. 

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of Schmidt's performance, "I thought Clarke was good, man, I mean, he's - he made some two-strike mistakes, but I thought his stuff was really good, especially on a cold night, and he was pounding the strike zone. I mean, he was two-to-one strikes (69-33) now he made some two-strike mistakes. I think maybe the first five hits or so were with two strikes or, you know, 0-2, and just couldn't put a guy away, but he had swing-and-miss, what did he end up with, six or seven strikeouts, how many? (was told seven) So, you know, the only bugaboo for him tonight was some mistakes in some two-strike counts, but otherwise I thought he threw the ball really well.

Schmidt was also helped by his defense, which included a dazzling leaping catch at the right field fence by Juan Soto, on a hit by Richie Palacios to end the third inning.

In his next at-bat, to lead off the sixth inning, Palacios would give Schmidt the only blemish on his night when he hit a solo home run to right center field.

If not for that, Schmidt would have been even with Rays starter Tyler Anderson, who also went 5-and-a-third, while allowing no runs on two hits and a walk, with four strikeouts.

The Yankees were still trailing just 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh when Chris Devenski replaced Shawn Armstrong, who finished off the sixth for the Rays. 

Gleyber Torres struck out to open the inning, but then the Yankees caught a break when Alex Verdugo reached on an error by second baseman Curtis Mead. Jose Trevino then drew a walk before Oswaldo Cabrera reached on another Rays error, this one from first baseman Yandy Diaz. 

That one allowed Verdugo to race in and tie the game at 1. Anthony Volpe then singled to bring in Trevino, and that was followed by the big blow off the bat of Juan Soto, a three-run shot to right field to make it instantly 5-1 Yankees.

That was Soto's fifth home run of the season, and gives him 20 RBI on the season. He is also hitting .347 with a .468 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging %, giving him an OPS of 1.068.

"It's been impressive," Boone said of Soto's start to his Yankees tenure. "You know, what he's doing between the lines is great, but love what he's doing behind the scenes and in the room, and just connecting with our team. You know, the work and the pride he puts into all facets of the game, that's been the coolest thing to witness, but watching him go out there and perform between the lines has been special."

Tampa Bay got two back in the eighth inning to make it 5-3, but Clay Holmes shut the door in the ninth to earn his eighth save of the season.

Schmidt ended up with the no-decision, but there were many superlatives to his outing, starting with that he threw a career-high 102 pitches, topping his previous high of 99 pitches, which he did twice last season. He recorded seven strikeouts for the second straight start, and this was the second time he did not allow a walk this season, with the first being March 31 at the Houston Astros.

This also was the 29th time that Schmidt has allowed three runs or less since 2023, the third-most in the Major Leagues, trailing only Sonny Gray (31) and Blake Snell (30).

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