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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Sonny Gray’s struggles show need for rotation help

Sonny Gray looks at the ball in the

Sonny Gray looks at the ball in the top of the first inning against the Nationals at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Errol Anderson

Hal Steinbrenner is one of you, Yankees fans. He sees a deep, talented team with a group of exciting young players who are the envy of baseball.

He also sees a deficiency in the rotation. And he’s ready to authorize an increase in payroll if general manager Brian Cashman can find the right arm to add before the trade deadline.

Cashman thought Sonny Gray’s right arm was the right arm at last year’s trade deadline. But Gray proved two things on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium: That the Yankees do need more rotation help — in part because Gray is not the front-end starter the Yankees hoped they were acquiring from the A’s.

Gray allowed four runs in five innings in a no-decision in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the Nationals and has an ERA of 4.98 (7.23 in the Bronx).

After giving up a run in a 34-pitch first inning, Gray watched the Yankees build a 3-1 lead after three. But 19-year-old sensation Juan Soto hit an opposite-field, three-run home run in the fourth to flip the lead back to Washington. Soto’s shot to left seemed like a foul ball off the bat, but it didn’t slice as Brett Gardner drifted back and ran out of room.

“I was kind of watching the hitter’s reaction,” Gray said. “I thought it was a foul ball and then I thought if it was fair that Gardy would make a play and then it kept carrying and kept carrying and that’s kind of how it goes.”

Gray was shaky from the start. Only bad Nationals baserunning saved him from a worse outing as four (four!) Washington outs were recorded on the bases in the first three innings (two pickoffs by Gray, one runner doubled off on a line drive, one runner thrown out at second trying to stretch a single).

The sin in the fourth wasn’t Soto’s home run. It was walking Daniel Murphy with two outs before a single by Matt Adams.

“You get two quick outs and you walk a guy — that’s never a good thing,” Gray said. “Then they get [a] hit and hit a three-run homer. That was kind of the end of it for me.”

The Yankees tied it in the fifth on a home run by their own phenom, 21-year-old Gleyber Torres. But Soto went deep again in the seventh, this time off Chasen Shreve, and this time it was a no-doubt bomb to right-center that gave the Nationals a 5-4 lead.

It was the first run a Yankees reliever had allowed in 22 2⁄3 innings. That unit seems locked in, and manager Aaron Boone said he still thinks the offense has “another level we can get to.” That’s with the Yankees leading the majors in home runs and second to the Red Sox in runs.

The AL East-leading Yankees also wake up this morning a game behind the Red Sox (second-place Boston is .002 behind in winning percentage). Because of all their rainouts, the Yankees have played six fewer games than Boston. Those games will have to be made up in a condensed time frame, which along with the injuries to Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery is another reason Steinbrenner knows the Yankees will need to fortify their rotation.

“Clearly starting pitching is always a concern,” Steinbrenner said at the owners meetings in Manhattan. “You can’t ever have enough of it . . . Look, I think there’s definitely a need. It’s definitely one of the areas we’re going to be looking at. We’ve got some flexibility payroll-wise, so the question is what’s going to be available and what are the asks.”

Here’s the money quote from Steinbrenner (Mets fans, avert your eyes):

“We purposely left a decent amount of money just for this.”

If Sonny were on the money, maybe the Yankees wouldn’t need to spend more this July. But Wednesday’s start and Gray’s Yankees body of work tells us Steinbrenner better get out the checkbook. Again.

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