The day after Brian Cashman’s team-wide vote of confidence, at least Jameson Taillon showed that he deserved it.
Despite all of the Yankees’ changes for Tuesday’s series opener against Atlanta, too much stayed the same in a 3-1 victory that was basically gift-wrapped. One of the few exceptions was Taillon, who in his third start offered the possibility they could have another trusted starter behind Gerrit Cole and maybe Jordan Montgomery.
That could be useful if the Yankees intend to convincingly emerge from this recent funk. It didn’t feel that way Tuesday, even after ending a five-game losing streak.
In the meantime, the Yankees are a team grasping for positives, and they got a decent consolation prize with Taillon’s performance. He kept the Braves within reach during his longest outing in pinstripes, going five innings (80 pitches) while allowing four hits and a lone run on back-to-back doubles by Guillermo Heredia and Ehire Adrianza in the third inning. He struck out five — freezing two of them with a sharp curveball — and walked one in trimming his ERA to 5.40 from 7.56.
"When a team’s not playing extremely well and we’re having a tough time putting wins together, I want to be the guy that’s going to help us get back in the win column," Taillon said. "So going out there, I kind of had that attitude. That almost fueled me."
For one night, anyway, Taillon helped alleviate some of the growing concern about Cashman’s retooled rotation, as the starters not named Gerrit Cole had combined for a 6.39 ERA. Taillon and Corey Kluber were brought aboard as calculated risks during the offseason, but all of their time missed due to injuries — Taillon was coming off his second Tommy John surgery — made them significant dice rolls for Cashman.
The gamble figured to be worthwhile as long as the two stayed healthy for the start of the regular season, and both of them did. Before Taillon’s encouraging start Tuesday, however, it was understandable if Boone & Co. were getting a little anxious, especially with the Yankees struggling to stay afloat, as the pair had teamed up for a 6.75 ERA, averaging under four innings in five starts total.
Cole, as expected, is doing his job despite losing Sunday’s 10-strikeout effort against the Rays. He’s got his 1.82 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. At $36 million this season, the Yankees are getting what they paid for.
They can also say the same for the rest of the rotation. Cashman chose to invest a paltry $17 million total in the other four slots, regardless of who you choose to stick at No. 5 (Domingo German already lost the gig, Nick Nelson was the opener Friday). The GM badly needs Taillon and Kluber to bail him out — sooner rather than later, as Boone played the clubhouse-meeting card Friday night (followed by a loss to Rays ace Tyler Glasnow) and Cashman expressed optimism Monday during a Zoom conference with the medi
"I know what was available in the wintertime and I’m very comfortable with that decision-making process," Cashman said. "We have gotten out of the gate slowly. And our starting pitching obviously has not gone deep, outside Gerrit Cole. But ultimately, I think our starters will get on line, and get us that distance, and get us that consistently good performance every five days. It just hasn't happened on the outset, in their first two to three starts. But I'm looking forward to better days ahead."
Unlike with Taillon, the Yankees are banking on more than just potential when it comes to Kluber, He’s a two-time Cy Young Award winner who has been derailed by injuries since finishing third for the award 2018, so it’s understandable if he requires a longer runway for the talent to take flight again.
"Obviously, we know we haven’t played the way we’d like to at this point," Kluber said Tuesday afternoon. "But I think that if we try to make up for 15 games in the matter of one or two, it’s putting that much more pressure on it than just going out there and playing good baseball and trying to win that day. If you take that approach consistently over the course of time, I think it gets us back on the right track."
The Yankees desperately need to get off the current one. And change the conversation, which has switched again to skewering Cashman for not going after more proven, higher-priced starters during the offseason, whether it was free agents such as Trevor Bauer and Taijaun Walker or trade candidates such as Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove (no way the Rays were sending Blake Snell to the Bronx).
Instead, the Yankees have big bets riding on Taillon and Kluber. As we’ve seen lately, those stakes are rising quickly.