Yankees management and players did the best they could with the Domingo German situation in spring training. They didn’t sugarcoat how difficult it would be for him to win back the clubhouse after the righthander missed all of last season following a suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy in an incident involving his then-girlfriend that was witnessed by team personnel.
Reliever Zack Britton, in an unusually harsh statement when camp opened, said: "Sometimes you don’t get to control who your teammates are, and that’s the situation. I don’t agree with what he did. I don’t think it has any place in the game or off the field at all."
German, an 18-game winner in 2019, made amends with his teammates in spring training and also had to win a job, which he accomplished by being the Yankees’ best pitcher in the Florida sun.
Now he has to hold on to that job. Sunday’s lackluster and short outing — three runs allowed on two home runs in three innings — in the Yankees’ 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays and a surprisingly dominant performance by the pitcher who replaced him could be looked at as a reminder that a big league spot is not a given.
You can lose it by what you do on the field, too. There’s always somebody nipping at your heels, looking to take your place.
That someone on Sunday was Mike King, who threw six shutout innings of relief.
German allowed a solo home run by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a two-run shot by Randal Grichuk in the second inning. That was enough for the Blue Jays to take the rubber match of the season-opening three-game series in the Bronx.
"[German] just made a couple mistakes," manager Aaron Boone said. "They made him pay."
King, a 25-year-old righthander who had a 7.76 ERA in nine appearances (four starts) for the Yankees in 2020, walked the first batter he faced on four pitches and gave up a single to the second man.
After that, he faced 19 batters and the only one to reach was on catcher’s interference. King retired the final 16. He is the first Yankees reliever since Bob Shirley in 1986 to throw at least six shutout innings while allowing one or fewer hits.
King is not known as a hard thrower, but he was dialing it up to 96 as he settled into his impressive outing — one that makes you wonder if he can be more than a long man for the Yankees this season.
"He pitched great," Boone said. "To be as pitch-efficient as he was, to be able to complete that game, was huge for us . . . especially after the way it started."
King said his first four pitches to Grichuk leading off the fourth "were a little scary."
Boone said the offerings "weren’t overly close . . . And then he really locked it in."
King threw 68 pitches, which is the same number as German in twice as many innings.
Often, a young reliever who throws a lot of innings is sent back to the minors (or, these days, the alternate site) before the next game so the team can call up a fresh arm.
Boone, though, seemed to indicate that was not going to be King’s immediate fate when he noted that the Yankees didn’t use any other relievers on Sunday.
"I mean, that was huge for us," Boone said. "So we should be OK."
King’s outing gave the Yankees something to smile about and talk about on an otherwise blah day, when the uncertainty about how everyone is supposed to feel about German’s return hung over his first big league outing since Sept. 18, 2019.
"Obviously, what he’s been through, there’s going to be probably some polarizing reactions at times," Boone said. "You’ve got to deal with that, and he will."
German, who allowed four hits, walked one and struck out two, was cheered by the 20% capacity crowd, as he was during pregame introductions on Opening Day.
"It was very exciting to be back on a major league mound and compete," he said through an interpreter. "I wanted to stay calm and take it all in and definitely had some issues in the game today . . . Things did not work out the way I wanted."