The trades for Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia existed only in the abstract when announced by the Yankees during a busy 24-hour span leading up to Monday’s non-waiver deadline. The two pitchers were numbers on a stat sheet, with Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi doing their best to describe how each would fit in the Bronx, sight unseen.
But the chess pieces became real Tuesday afternoon, once the planes had landed, the cabs got to Yankee Stadium, and both slipped on pinstripes for the first time. Getting fully comfortable in their new surroundings, however, may take a little longer.
“Do you know the way to the field?” Garcia asked a reporter as he sheepishly exited the clubhouse. Another Yankee then asked who that person was.
Forgive Garcia for being a bit dizzy. The Yankees are his third team this season, after spending nearly four months with the Braves and only a week on the Twins before getting flipped to the Bronx. For now, Garcia is a member of a temporary six-man rotation, scheduled to start Friday in Cleveland, and that’s enough stability at the moment.
“I’m 100 percent focused on that,” Garcia said. “I don’t pay attention to anything out of my control.”
Right answer. As far as deadline additions go, it sounds like the Yankees found two great candidates to plug into their playoff chase. Garcia is a nine-year veteran, with Cardinals’ postseason experience, who insisted he’s “ready” for this next step. The fact that his late grandfather was a Yankee fan, and predicted he’d someday pitch for them, is a bonus.
For Gray, he didn’t appear too sad fleeing the Bay Area, despite growing up in the A’s organization. His 2 1/2-year-old son, Gunnar, already had switched caps, and Gray talked about it being every kid’s dream to play for the Yankees. That had to be music to Cashman’s ears. Every GM worries about the adjustment process involved with players switching teams, especially the culture shock of New York or Boston.
But Gray came off as mostly unfazed. He showed up, changed into his workout gear, then threw a light bullpen to prep for Thursday’s debut against the Indians. Afterward was the obligatory news conference, when Gray explained Sonny is not a nickname — it’s on his birth certificate — and more importantly, that he’s never felt better.
Health is the only potential cloud hovering over Gray, whose recent injuries, dating to last year’s fractured campaign, are the asterisk on what otherwise seems to be a brilliant swap for the Yankees. Gray battled through strains of his forearm and trapezius muscles, then opened this season on the disabled list because of a lat strain.
That’s an alarming amount of damage over a relatively short period, but his performance the past month suggests those dark days may be behind him. In his final six starts for the A’s, Gray is 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA and a 0.986 WHIP. He’s also held opponents to a .164 batting average and .486 on-base percentage, with 36 strikeouts and nine walks in 39 1/3 innings. Gray credited the turnaround to finally getting the repetitions he needed, and there’s no reason to believe that can’t continue.
“The baseball feels good in my hand again,” Gray said.
For a touch guy like Gray, whose pitches have nasty movement to both sides of the plate, that’s a critical detail. And the timing of his revival could turn out to be a difference-maker in the Yankees’ quest to win their first division title since 2012. Gray got a taste of the playoffs in Oakland — he had a 2.08 ERA in two ALDS starts in 2013 — but he seems to realize the greater magnitude of what lies ahead for him.
Girardi said he just wants “Sonny to be Sonny,” and Gray can probably do that. The Yankees had a rotation with a clearly defined No. 1 in Luis Severino, and two others with the title of ace on their resumes, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. All the Yankees need is for Gray and Garcia to pitch as advertised. On Day 1, they already looked good in pinstripes.
“I see myself as a guy that loves to win,” Gray said.
He should make friends easily in the Bronx.