Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes smiles before throwing against the Miami...

Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes smiles before throwing against the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Monday, April 8, 2024. Credit: Noah K. Murray

CLEVELAND — Juan Soto has been the “transformational bat” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he would be after trading for the outfielder during December’s winter meetings.

But there is a dog-bites-man quality to that; place it in the great-player-playing-great category.

Which in no way diminishes Soto’s sudden impact on the Yankees and his role in them bringing a 10-3 record into Friday night’s game against the Guardians at Progressive Field, which was rained out and will be made up Saturday as part of a split doubleheader. The games are scheduled to  begin at 12:10 p.m. and 6:10 p.m.

But the 10-3 mark, the second-best 13-game start in franchise history (behind the 11-2 put up by the American League pennant-winning 2003 Yankees), first and foremost is the result of the rotation. Even without Gerrit Cole, arguably the best pitcher in the sport, the unit has performed well. As of Friday, the Yankees’ rotation had a 2.67 ERA, third-best in the majors.

Though manager Aaron Boone said he isn’t surprised by the group’s performance to this point, that also fits in the dog-bites-man grouping. The seventh-year manager rarely, if ever, publicly expresses surprise at a positive performance, or performances, when it comes to any of his players.

But organizationally, it is not a stretch to say that more than a few were concerned — “petrified,” in the words of one insider — about how the rotation would do without Cole.

To date, the quintet not only has held its own, it has thrived.

“We feel like all the guys we’re running out there in our rotation right now are very capable,” Boone said earlier in the week. “Even the ones coming off of tough seasons or injury or whatever are not far removed from being at the top of their game, with a track record.”

The latter comment was a reference to Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes, both of whom had lousy 2023 seasons.

Rodon, a two-time All-Star signed to a six-year, $162 million free agent contract before the  2023 season, started last year on the injured list with a forearm strain and saw that rehab halted when a back issue cropped up. That caused his debut to be delayed until July 7, and  his season was mostly terrible from there as Rodon went 3-8 with a 6.85 ERA in 14 starts.

Cortes showed up before spring training 2023 with a lingering shoulder issue that never improved. The lefthander, so good in 2022 when he went 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA, finished 5-2 but with a 4.97 ERA in 12 starts.

Rodon, who arrived for spring training this year far earlier than required and in far better shape than he did the previous year, is 1-0 with a 1.72 ERA in three outings. Cortes is 1-1 with a 3.50 ERA.

“It’s always important for any of us to start out on a good note,” Rodon said after allowing two runs (none earned) and four hits in six innings of a 3-2 victory over the Marlins on Tuesday night. “It’s a step in the right direction. Just keep going. The confidence is growing, for sure.”

Marcus Stroman has never lacked for confidence.   He's been good, as expected, posting a 2.12 ERA in three starts.

Luis Gil, whose electric arsenal in his final three starts of spring training allowed him to break into the rotation far ahead of schedule, has been solid with a 3.00 ERA in two starts. Clarke Schmidt, in his second full season as a starter, has been the least impressive of the five but has hardly been disastrous in posting a 4.66 ERA in two starts. (Schmidt, Friday night’s scheduled starter, will start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader and Cody Poteet, called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, will start the second game.)

Cole, out with inflammation in his right elbow, recently began his throwing program and, if his rehab continues without setback, could be back perhaps as early as mid-to-late June.

That date seemed all too distant for the Yankees when camp broke. Because of the rotation’s performance, though, the date now seems not only within reach but survivable in a way not many saw coming.

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