Luis Gil #81 of the New York Yankees reacts after...

Luis Gil #81 of the New York Yankees reacts after the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Shortly after the Yankees named Luis Gil  the surprising winner of their fifth starter competition at the end of spring training, a rival American League scout sent an unsolicited text.

“If he keeps pitching like he has, he won’t be the one to lose his rotation spot when [Gerrit] Cole is back,” the scout, not usually overly complimentary of Yankees prospects, wrote of Gil. “The percent chance he is their best starter this year is not zero.”

Six-plus weeks into the season, Gil has been exactly that. And that's no small accomplishment, given how good the Yankees' rotation has been, even without Cole.

Gil’s performance has been among the many reasons why, but the righthander, already off to a terrific start, outdid himself Saturday afternoon.

Shrugging off a laborious 29-pitch first inning, Gil struck out a career-best 14 in an electric six innings of straight dominance, leading the Yankees to a 6-1 victory over the White Sox in front of 43,194 at the Stadium.

“It was fun just standing out there,” rightfielder Juan Soto, who went 4-for-4 with 417- and 437-foot drives into the rightfield bleachers and a walk, said with a laugh of playing behind Gil on this day. “It’s really nice to see a guy like that and that electric fastball . . . 98, 99, it’s just incredible.”

Gil, 25, among Cole’s most eager pupils in spring training (the ace mentors pretty much every pitcher in some way), allowed one run (on Andrew Benintendi's check-swing RBI double with two outs in the first inning),  five hits (three of which came in the first) and a walk. Gil is 5-1 with a rotation-best 2.39 ERA (the rotation has a 3.00 ERA overall).

“As good as his fastball has been all season, today felt like maybe his best one,” Aaron Boone said. “Just pouring it there, with the presence of the secondary stuff, too. Just really impressive.”

The Yankees (32-15), in winning their sixth straight and 12th of 14, had nine hits, an output that included the two blasts by Soto (his 10th and 11th) and homers by Jose Trevino (No. 5) and Giancarlo Stanton (No. 11).

Soto, who entered the day in a mini-slump in his previous eight games (4-for-31) and spent a bit of time before Friday's game working on his swing, “getting that feeling back” and trying to “get that confidence” back from the first month-plus, raised his batting average to .317 and his OPS to .975. His three RBIs gave him 37.

Did he get that feeling back?

“I think so,” Soto said with a smile.

Stanton continued his recent hot stretch, going 2-for-3 with a walk and adding an RBI double to his home run. He is slashing .333/.360/.708 with five homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs in his last 12 games and is 11-for-24 in his last six games.

Gil, whose fastball-changeup-slider repertoire has never been better, struck out seven straight batters at one point. Three batters after Soto tied it with the first of his two homers, Stanton’s RBI double in the first gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Trevino’s homer  and Soto’s RBI single in the second  made it 4-1.

It was all more than enough for Gil, whose 14 strikeouts eclipsed the Yankees’ single-game rookie record of 13 set by Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez in 1998 (Hernandez, coincidentally, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Saturday’s game).

“Happy moment there,” Gil said of surpassing El Duque. “I actually got to meet him today. [To] establish some kind of a connection, I was very happy to meet him after the game."

Gil, who won the fifth starter job with his last three starts of spring training — his eight strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings on March 11 against the Phillies in Clearwater was the jumping-off point, as it caused ripples throughout the organization — retired  16 of his final 18 batters. His strikeout of Paul DeJong with a 97-mph fastball to open the fourth started his streak of seven straight strikeouts, with the final one coming when Andrew Vaughn swung at a slider to start the sixth.

“He has the stuff to do that,” Trevino said of the consecutive strikeouts.

Gil, who became the 11th pitcher in franchise history to record at least 14 strikeouts in a game, is 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA in his last four starts.

“During the offseason, I did a lot of work to get myself into a good position coming into camp,” said Gil, who went nearly two years between outings in the big leagues because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent early in the 2022 season. “I really just wanted to do the best I could for this team.”

And when it comes to a Yankees rotation that continues to shine, Gil’s best has been better than anyone else's.

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