DUNEDIN, Fla. — Two of the five pitchers competing for the fourth and fifth starter spots took the mound Thursday afternoon for the Yankees.
One of them performed far better than the other.
Luis Cessa started the game, an 11-5 victory over the Blue Jays, and retired the first two batters he faced. But it went swiftly downhill as the righthander, whose command was more of an issue than his actual stuff, allowed four runs and six hits in 1 2⁄3 innings.
Righthander Bryan Mitchell then struck out five in three innings, allowing one run on a wind-aided triple. “That’s the closest he’s been to last year, so we want to build on that,” Joe Girardi said.
Mitchell, 25, was by far the most impressive Yankees pitcher in spring training last year but suffered a fractured left toe in his last outing before camp ended. He hasn’t been quite as good this year but, after a rocky second outing, seems to have put himself in position to grab one of the two open spots.
“What I liked about [Mitchell] today was he wasn’t overthrowing,” one AL scout said, noting that Mitchell’s fastball hit 97 mph several times. “Looked like he was playing catch. Seemed in total control of all four of his pitches.”
Mitchell, who lowered his ERA to 3.77, said he felt “really good” with his performance. “Probably the best I’ve felt so far,” he said. “It’s starting to come together right now.”
Though Girardi has taken pains to say no one has emerged in the competition and that it’s still “too early” to declare any favorites, the consensus among opposing team talent evaluators covering the club is that Mitchell and Luis Severino have started to separate themselves.
Girardi did allow that crunch time, if not here already, is approaching. “These stats and the innings they’re pitching now become more important because they’re going longer,” he said.
Backup catcher Austin Romine, who left Wednesday night’s game after a pitch in the dirt hit his right hand, will be out “hopefully only a couple of days,” Girardi said. X-rays of Romine’s hand after the game were negative.