Best rotation ERA in the majors belongs to Oakland. That’s where the Yankees play their next three games, and the task at hand is no mystery. The Yankees just played the A’s in three pretty tight games at Yankee Stadium earlier this month, and the Yankees will face two of the same starting pitchers this weekend (the change is Sonny Gray, who starts tonight and has been terrific this season).
But you know what? The Yankees rotation has actually been pretty good itself. Even with 60 percent of the team’s intended starters on the disabled list, the Yankees still have one of the best rotation ERAs in the American League. And that’s in no small part because of a guy who, at this time last year, had never started a professional game.
“You know, the kid has been consistent with his stuff,” Joe Girardi said. “He doesn’t beat himself. He doesn’t walk people. He’s done the little things, and he’s mixed in an outstanding changeup with his fastballs and sliders. He gets ahead in the count. We only saw him as a reliever (in spring training). We weren’t sure of what we had as a starter, but he’s done a really good job.”
What stands out about Whitley — other than the fact his slider seems to have really improved, giving him another offspeed pitch to go with his go-to changeup — is the fact he’s not afraid of the plate. It seems that young pitchers in particular sometimes want to nibble. They see a guy like Robinson Cano or David Wright or Joe Mauer, and they give the hitter too much credit.
Whitley’s gone right after guys.
“Going back to (the first game against) the Mets,” Whitley said. “The first inning, I threw some pitches, and guys took the same swings that they’d been taking for the past three years. (If) you try to make the game too hard, it’ll go fast. This game speeds up so quickly. That was my whole goal was just, make sure they hit their way on base.”
Whitley hasn’t walked anyone in his past four starts. He had a couple of late-game walks in his debut, and he’s walked just one batter since then. The past two times out, Whitley has pitched deep in the game without throwing as many as 90 pitches.
“You get that first inning in and I’m like, OK, my stuff plays,” Whitley said. “The defense is really good here, so let them hit their way. It goes back to learning in the minor leagues. I remember when I got called up to Double-A, I’d gone 40 innings in High-A and walked 10 — something like that; I wasn’t walking guys — then I get up to Double-A and I walked 16 guys in the first 30 innings. I was giving those guys way too much credit. Then go to Triple-A and start out on a similar run where I don’t walk many guys, and then all of a sudden for six weeks I’m pitching to the corners instead of pitching to the white.”
Whitley has been a starting pitcher for less than a year and a big leaguer for less than a month, but he’s pitching like he belongs.
“He could have gotten wins in pretty much every game he’s pitched for us,” Derek Jeter said. “He’s been outstanding for us. He’s fun to play behind because he throws a lot of strikes and he works very quickly. … He’s pitching ahead in the count a lot, which makes it a lot easier for you. He’s in the strike zone, he mixes his pitches up. Yeah, I think it’s important for not only young pitchers, but all pitchers.”
Associated Press photo