The Yankees have been a different team on this pivotal 10-game homestand, as they have won four of the first six games, with two wins each against the rival Boston Red Sox and the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals.
Part of this revival can be attributed to Aroldis Chapman, one of the most electrifying pitchers in the game, making his long-awaited debut.
Chapman made his Yankees debut on Monday night, his first day of eligibility after serving his 30-game suspension.
There was a notable buzz in the Stadium when he was on the mound in the ninth inning, finishing up a 6-3 Yankees win over the Royals. He gave up a run on two hits, but what got everyone going was the two strikeouts he notched.
On Tuesday night, Chapman got his first save, as he closed out a 10-7 win over Kansas City, in which he got another strikeout and allowed a walk in the ninth inning.
The Yankees were all on the top step of the dugout, marveling at how Chapman was routinely getting it over 100 miles-per-hour.
Chapman reached 102 miles an hour twice on Tuesday and he said of that, “A lot of fans like to see triple-digit pitches, so I understand why they get excited when they see me do that. I’m happy that I’m able to do that too, it’s exciting.”
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said on Wednesday afternoon of how quickly the fans have taken to Chapman, “I really didn’t know what to expect. Velocity is something in our game that is exciting. Anytime they see triple digits, I think they become even more excited. 97 and 98 gets them really excited.When you start seeing 100 and 101, people love it. So, because of that, I think that’s part of it. The stuff is electric, and it’s exciting, and I think people like that.”
Girardi said of the Yankees players being excited by it, “I think players are curious on our side too because, like I said yesterday, it’s not something they see everyday, three digits on the board.”
This is what the Yankees have been waiting for, to have their power bullpen of Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances set.
The hope is that with those three strikeout pitchers to close out games, if they take a lead into the seventh inning, it’s in the bag.
While the bullpen is complete, Girardi is suddenly having to deal with a rash of injuries, as Alex Rodriguez was placed on the 15-day DL last week, Jacoby Ellsbury left Friday night’s game against Boston with a hip injury, and Mark Teixeira is missing a couple games with a neck injury.
Girardi said of ‘having practice’ with dealing with multiple injuries to the starting nine, “Managing…well, like you said, I’ve had practice, As long as there’s no surprises and you know when you wake up in the morning what you have every day, I don’t really see a real issue. It’s when you have that surprise. I think we didn’t have a lot of players one day and Cervy (Francisco Cervello) was running to first base and pulled a hamstring, and all of a sudden, it was Carlos (Beltran) or Ichiro at first base. Now, that was a surprise, and that was somewhat of a difficult decision. As long as I have nine positional players that are used to playing the positions they’re at, it’s really not too much of a problem. You just can’t do much during the game. You can’t do a mix and match defensively or you can’t pinch run too much because you’ll run out of players quickly.”
Picking up the slack at the plate have been Aaron Hicks, who has taken over in center field, and Dustin Ackley over at first base.
Hicks is 8-for-18, with a home run, a double, and four runs scored on the homestand, and he got the go-ahead RBI double on Tuesday night.
Ackley had a hit, two RBI and scored two runs on Tuesday night, and he had three hits, three walks, and three RBI on the homestand.
Girardi said of Hicks and Ackley doing better with consistent at-bats, “I think a lot. I think they’re both used to playing every day. They’ve never been, you know Ack (Ackley) for the first time became kind of a roll player last year. Hicksy has always been an everyday player, whether it being a young player, whether it was in the big leagues playing every day in center field or in the minor leagues playing every day there, so it’s definitely helped them.”
Michael Pineda took the mound for the Yankees on Wednesday night, as they were looking for their third straight win over Kansas City.
Pineda got off to a rocky start, as he allowed a single to Alcides Escobar (who got caught stealing), hit Lorenzo Cain with a pitch, gave up a single to Eric hosmer, and walked Kendrys Morales to load the bases. He got Alex Gordon to hit a fly ball deep to center for rthe second out, but the sacrifice fly brought in one run.
Salvador Perez followed with a mammoth three-run homer to left field to make it 4-0 Royals.
After the first, Pineda settled in, and did not give up another run until the sixth, when Nick Goody gave up a single to Lorenzo Cain to bring home two runners that reached via walk by Pineda earlier in the frame. The Royals went on to win 7-3.
Girardi said of Pineda, “He left the slider up in that first inning, which was really the difference, and after that, he settled in pretty good. he probably tired a little bit at the end. You take the first inning away, he pitched pretty good.”
On this game showing the value of middle relief, Girardi said, “Those innings are really important, and we talked about that in spring training. The bridge to those guys (Chapman, Miller, Betances) is extremely important, and Goody has pitched really well up to this point, he did not tonight. Cookie (Phil Coke) kind of saved our bullpen a little bit tonight. We have three one-inning guys that we want to use when the games are really close. Those other guys have to step up and bridge the gap, and tonight we weren’t able to do it.”