TAMPA, Fla. — The concerns with the Yankees’ 2021 rotation — beyond Gerrit Cole, of course — came in a steady stream before spring training began.
The two pitchers expected to follow Cole in the rotation — Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber — hadn't pitched a full season since 2018 because of an assortment of physical issues and threw a total of one inning between them last year. Lefthander Jordan Montgomery still is considered unproven after a standout rookie season in 2017 because of Tommy John surgery in 2018. There figured to be a fifth starter battle between prospects Mike King, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia and the wild card of Domingo German, back after serving an 81-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy in September 2019.
In the recent words of always-cautious general manager Brian Cashman, "it’s early." To this point, however, with the exception of the common extensor tendon strain suffered by Schmidt early in camp, things could not have gone much better.
That continued Saturday afternoon when Kluber again looked strong and healthy in the Yankees’ 7-5 victory over the Pirates at Steinbrenner Field.
"He looks like himself," said DJ LeMahieu, who continued his strong start with a 2-for-3 day that included a three-run homer. "Ball’s moving all over the place. Slider, cutter looked really good. He looks like I remember facing him, that’s for sure."
Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner in his time with Cleveland, allowed two runs and four hits, including a homer, and hit two batters in four innings. He struck out two.
"I thought it was good overall," he said. "I was happy with the way I felt physically, happy with where the stuff was at. Maybe some pitches I could have located better, been a little sharper. The home run, first pitch, left it a little bit too much over the plate, obviously hit a couple of guys trying to get it [inside]. So just kind of fine-tuning that sort of stuff. But as far as physically and stuff like that, I was happy with it."
With his fastball sitting in his typical range of 91 to 93 mph, Kluber has allowed two runs, four hits and zero walks in six innings in two games.
"Everything’s been good so far," said the righthander, who threw only one inning for the Rangers last year before suffering a shoulder injury. "I think coming into this spring, just because of the way the timing of my throwing rehab played out, I was probably a little bit further ahead of where I normally am coming into spring. So far it’s all been good, and I’m hoping it stays that way."
Kluber, 34, is part of a group that overall has excelled.
Taillon, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings Friday, has not allowed a run in 5 2/3 innings in his three outings, walking four and striking out nine. Montgomery, who threw a simulated game Friday, has given up one run and two walks with three strikeouts in five innings and, most significantly for his style, has allowed few hard-hit balls.
Garcia, slated to start Sunday, has been mostly terrific, striking out eight and walking none in five innings in two games. German has been even better; he hasn't allowed a run or a walk in five innings in two games, striking out seven.
King, though not as consistent, like most of the staff has been healthy. With a curveball that has impressed some opposing team scouts, he has struck out four and walked four in six innings in three games.
"I’m really pleased where they are," Aaron Boone said of the entire group. "I feel like all those guys are about where you’d hope they’d be at this point in the spring, some even more advanced and more polished and probably more ready for the season to start. I feel really good about where they are physically. The challenge is going to be keeping them built up properly and to stay strong as much as we can throughout the year with them. But at this point, I'm really encouraged by what I'm seeing."