Now that Sonny Gray is fixed, what’s left on the Yankees’ to-do list?
For a team humming along on a 14-1 roll after Saturday’s 5-2 victory over the Indians, Gray had been the one lingering concern, the last box to check. He was the weak link, the pitcher the detractors could point to. Gray gave the people who love to complain something to complain about.
Too small. Too insecure. Not fit for New York after all. Supposedly, his first five starts told us everything we needed to know. It was gross negligence on the Yankees’ part that Gray hadn’t been removed from the rotation before Cinco de Mayo.
And yet the team’s decision-makers, fronted by Aaron Boone, somehow had the foresight to hang with Gray, give him a catcher in Austin Romine with whom he’s more comfortable and dare to presume he’d pull out of his April funk. They didn’t entertain questions about demoting Gray or suggest his rotation spot was on the line with every start.
The Yankees kept saying Gray would straighten himself out, that the signs were there despite his 7.71 ERA and .864 OPS. We mocked the optimism — and in his next two starts, Gray proved us wrong.
Last Monday at Minute Maid Park, Gray was a hard-luck loser despite holding the mighty Astros to four hits and two runs in six innings. And on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, Gray again went six, limiting the Indians to a pair of runs and striking out seven.
It was the first time since Gray put on pinstripes last year that he had back-to-back starts of six innings and allowed no more than two runs. It’s a feat made even more impressive given that it came against the defending world champions in their own backyard followed by the perennial kingpin of the AL Central.
As Boone said afterward, Gray has “that look in his eye” now, a noticeable attitude shift that shows he feels in charge on the mound again.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself and know I’m a better pitcher than I was in those first four or five starts,” Gray said. “It may have taken a little time to get there, but I knew it wasn’t going to be like that forever.”
Despite a 9-9 start that dropped them 7 1⁄2 games behind the 17-2 Red Sox, the Yankees had the luxury of patience because the rest of the rotation began clicking around Gray and the team’s powerful lineup scored runs in bunches. They could wait for him to join the party, and now that he’s shown up, the real fun starts.
Gray was responsible for the only loss in the past 15 games, but it was by the score of 2-1 to the Astros, with the dominant Charlie Morton outdueling him that night. During this 14-1 stretch, capped by Gray’s sterling effort Saturday, the Yankees’ rotation has a 2.01 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 89 1⁄3 innings (h/t to stat guru Katie Sharp).
“Everyone’s throwing the ball so well,” Gray said. “Everybody wants to keep the train going.”
Now that he’s on board, it must be a huge relief for Gray, who seemed to shrink back into his locker with every disappointing postgame interview. He took the heat and dutifully answered all the questions, but Gray wasn’t providing much in the way of solutions when he took the mound.
Two notable things have happened since. Boone has committed to using Romine behind the plate for Gray’s starts — don’t call him a personal catcher, though — and Gray is throwing more fastballs to go with his nasty breaking pitches.
After Saturday’s win, Gray couldn’t praise Romine enough. That partnership needs to stay intact even though Boone repeatedly has said he doesn’t like to play matchmaker because a strict pairing might adversely affect his postseason lineup. Good managers need to think ahead, but that’s five months away. Just keep that train rolling for now, and if the Yankees are going to get this version of Gray from here with Romine, that’s what it has to be.
“I think it’s Sonny being in a good place stuff-wise,” Boone said. “It was another really good step for him.”
It’s all been good for the Yankees, a team whose last worrisome flaw has been corrected. A Gray day now is something to look forward to.