It was two weeks ago Brian Cashman spent an off-day expressing disappointment at the poor start of the team he constructed while also displaying confidence it would turn around and defending manager Aaron Boone.
Cashman’s passionate defense lasted about 40 minutes and the immediate results did not net an instant turnaround as the Yankees settled for a split and produced an ugly first inning that allowed three runs in Cleveland.
Since that first inning, things are not as bleak though the Yankees never want to be at .500 through 28 games and while it is tough to determine how long it will take them to get well over .500, there’s a better vibe around the Yankees.
Of course, it is easy to say that after a sweep of the Detroit Tigers where the Yankees outscored their opposition 18-4 but conversely imagine the outcry if the Yankees actually lost one of these games. So, consider this to be a weekend where the Yankees did what they had to do and got important stuff done.
Among the important stuff is the continued hot streaks of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge to offset some of the slower starts by others. Stanton is hitting .436 (17-for-39) in his last nine games while Judge carried the Yankees through the first two games with eight RBIs after being given two days off due to lower body soreness.
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Perhaps the best feel good element of some of the recent developments is the starting pitcher from those not named Gerrit Cole of late. It was particularly noticeable in the feel-good moment for Jameson Taillon, whose five gritty innings represented his first win in exactly two years.
It had been that long for Taillon because three months later he underwent a second Tommy John surgery and then during the long rehab process he refined his mechanics and encountered some speed bumps in his early going.
On Saturday, none of those obstacles persisted for Taillon, who highlighted his best outing with the Yankees in one sequence against Miguel Cabrera in the fifth inning. He set up Cabrera with three straight curveballs and then used a high fastball to get the strikeout.
Taillon’s grittiness preceded an absolute clinic from Corey Kluber, who wrapped up his eight dominant innings in under two hours. It was so good that even the normally stoic personality cracked a smile in the eighth inning at the end of a day when he did not allow a ball to be caught by outfielders.
“I’m probably not the vocal or emotional person in the clubhouse,” Kluber said, “But I wouldn’t say that I don’t ever have a good time.”
In a two-hit performance, he struck out 10 with an impressive array of five different pitches. There were the 30 sinkers which set up the 25 changeups and 25 cutters to go along with the 19 curveballs and occasional four-seam fastball.
“That was a guy who was in control of the outing,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Kluber got his strikeouts on changeups and curveballs and did not throw a pitch over 92.6 mph. It was about precision against a team struggling to generate any type of offense but even if the quality of opponent was upgraded you get the feeling Kluber was going to effective, though maybe not this effective.
“Really fun,” Kyle Higashioka said of catching Kluber. “It’s kind of like as a kid when you play the video game, you kind of just randomly choose. Obviously I’m not randomly choosing pitches to call, but you can throw any pitch, any spot, any count. That’s kind of how he’s working right now and it’s really fun.”
When Kluber is pitching as Higashioka described, he’s working fast though Sunday’s time of 2 hours, 14 minutes can be characterized as Mark Buehrle or Roy Halladay fast.
In his last double-digit strikeout game on Sept. 24, 2018 in Chicago, it took 2 hours, 53 minutes and the last time he pitched eight innings before Sunday on Sept. 18, 2018, it took 2 hours, 25 minutes.
Kluber’s rapid pace also continued a trend for Yankee starting pitching, which during the slow start, many wondered if anyone besides Cole could complete five innings.
It turns out they can. Since April 18, Yankee starters own a 2.38 ERA and averaging nearly six innings. During those 79 1/3 innings, the starters have 91 strikeouts and yielded just four homers. Perhaps a better gauge is in the last nine starts where the starters have allowed one run or less in six of those games.
Any way you slice it, things are going better these days for the Yankees, making it seem like Cashman’s media session seem longer than two weeks ago. They are not perfect, very few teams are but things are trending upwards for the Yankees who always anticipated it would happen even as the slow start triggered memories of the 1991 season.
“It’s better than being under (.500) that’s for sure,” Boone said. “Even when we’re down and things aren’t going great, I do know our group at its core has a lot of confidence. We’re definitely moving in that direction now, but we also understand we’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal.”
And for the Yankees the next part in keeping the pedal to the metal just happens to be a visit from the Houston Astros.