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Chase Whitley a pleasant surprise for Yankees

Yankees starting pitcher Chase Whitley, making his major

Yankees starting pitcher Chase Whitley, making his major league debut, delivers against the Mets in a baseball game at Citi Field on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

CHICAGO - Chase Whitley's second career start was overshadowed by game's end, much as his first was.

The rookie pitched reasonably well against the Cubs on Wednesday, allowing one run and six hits in 41/3 innings, but that was far from most people's minds after the Yankees won, 4-2, in a crazy 13-inning affair.

In his big-league debut May 15 against the Mets, the 24-year-old righthander's 42/3 scoreless innings also were pushed to the back burner, mostly because of the brilliance of Dellin Betances, who struck out six of the seven batters he faced in a 1-0 victory. (Betances also dominated Wednesday after replacing Whitley, striking out three in 12/3 perfect innings.)

But make no mistake, Whitley has played an important role as the Yankees have weathered the storm that has hit their rotation.

Fill-in starters Vidal Nuño, David Phelps and Whitley mostly have struggled to get into the fifth inning, but Joe Girardi said that because of the effectiveness of the bullpen, the club can survive the short outings as long as they're relatively good ones.

"You'd like to be able to build them up more and more,'' Girardi said of the replacement starters. "But the thing that you ask is, get to the fifth, sixth inning, give us a chance to win. And we'll make it work."

The Yankees had some idea of what to expect from Phelps, who started Thursday night against the White Sox, and Nuño, but Whitley was a wild card. A converted starter, he was off to a good start with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but until CC Sabathia's injury created organizational desperation for another starter, his big-league debut seemed a ways away.

His thoughts when the call came just before that May 15 debut -- in a Subway Series game no less?

"I just didn't want to fall on my face," Whitley said. "Fortunately, it went well."

Whitley has allowed a combined one run, eight hits and three walks in nine innings with seven strikeouts, and both outings have gone well mostly because of his changeup. When he was elevated to the majors, minor-league scouts said it was his best pitch, and it has translated thus far.

"I would say it's an any-count, any-time pitch because I don't have 96, 97 in the tank," said Whitley, whose fastball sits in the low 90s. "So I know in a hitter's count, if they're sitting fastball, I've got to be able to throw that pitch or I'm going to get hurt."

John Ryan Murphy caught Whitley most of the second half of last season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"It's definitely his go-to pitch, behind in the count, ahead in the count," Murphy said of the changeup. "Any time a guy gets a swing and miss in the strike zone with a pitch, you know it's pretty good. He gets a lot of those."

With Ivan Nova gone for the season, Michael Pineda due back in early June at the earliest and Sabathia not returning anytime soon -- more than a few in the organization think even a return after the All-Star break might be an optimistic prognosis -- Whitley finds himself with an opportunity to stick around a while.

"You look at the stats and it looks good, so yeah, I'm pleased, but there's work to be done," he said.

"I hope to get better in the areas I need to improve, like executing when I'm ahead of hitters and executing when I'm behind hitters, whatever the case might be. I think my execution has to get better.

"I'm my own worst critic, but at the same time, I can't beat myself up because I'm pleased with how it's been going."

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