KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The expectations for Chase Whitley were minimal when the Yankees called him up from Triple-A to start May 15 against the Mets at Citi Field.
After all, it still was early in the 24-year-old's transition from reliever to starter. The only reason the May opportunity came about was an injury to CC Sabathia, the third starter knocked from the rotation in a three-week stretch.
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In a word, the Yankees were desperate. And so far, it appears they may have lucked into something unexpected.
In his fifth big-league start, Whitley was the best he's been, going seven strong innings and picking up his first major-league victory Friday night as the Yankees beat the Royals, 4-2, in front of 23,418 at Kauffman Stadium.
"A special day for him," Joe Girardi said.
Whitley, after a pregame warmup in the bullpen in which he said "I don't think I threw a strike," allowed two runs, five hits and zero walks with three strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 2.42.
"That's why bullpen sessions are irrelevant," said catcher Brian McCann, who had the night's big hit, a three-run double in the third off Jeremy Guthrie (2-6, 4.10) that made it 4-1. "When lights come on, it's a different story."
Whitley's best pitch is his changeup, but not Friday night. Girardi and McCann said the righthander compensated with his slider, a pitch that has steadily gotten better since spring training.
"It's been an unbelievable improvement," Whitley said. "Tonight I didn't throw a very good changeup and I was able to go to that pitch."
Ultimately, Whitley said, any success he's had this year can be traced to McCann and his pitch-calling. "Just follow whatever he has in store,'' Whitley said, "because that guy, he knows everything."
Granted, the standout outing came against the Royals, a team with offensive issues as bad as, if not worse than, the Yankees.
Still, the longest Whitley had lasted in his previous four starts was five innings twice: on May 26 at St. Louis and last Sunday against the Twins. In the minors, his longest outing was 62/3 innings.
"Getting that first out in the sixth was key," Whitley said with a smile. "Just to say I finally got past that fifth [inning].''
Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless eighth. He struck out the first two batters he faced -- getting Lorenzo Cain on a 99-mph fastball and Mike Moustakas on an 84-mph curveball -- before allowing Alcides Escobar's two-out double and inducing a groundout. Betances has 61 strikeouts in 36 innings, an average of 15.3 per nine innings.
David Robertson, who hasn't been sharp of late and who blew a save opportunity in what would have been Whitley's first victory last Sunday, struck out Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer to begin the ninth. He then gave up a double by Billy Butler and walked Alex Gordon on four pitches before getting Salvador Perez to ground into a forceout to record his 14th save in 16 opportunities.