In keeping with Sunday’s theme in the Bronx, let’s call the past dozen days an excellent changeup by the Yankees.
Thanks to Corey Kluber’s devastating use of that pitch in a 2-0 victory over the Tigers — who swung and missed as if they never had seen a major league changeup before — the Yankees improved to 14-14.
For a preseason World Series favorite, that is not much of an achievement, but for a team that on April 21 was 6-11 and seemingly incapable of pitching, hitting or playing defense consistently, they’ll take it.
"It’s better than being under [.500], that’s for sure," manager Aaron Boone said.
A weekend sweep of the Tigers at Yankee Stadium began with a 10-run outburst on Friday but more importantly featured three quality starts, first by the automatic Gerrit Cole, then Jameson Taillon and Kluber.
Domingo German and Jordan Montgomery were effective before that against the Orioles. The Yankees have three shutouts in their past five games. If this sort of thing continues, .500 should be just a starting point.
"It’s been really good," Boone said of the last spin of the rotation. "It squares with what we’ve been seeing. I know it wasn’t perfect, necessarily, out of the gates, but we were still seeing it from all the guys behind Gerrit.
"I felt like we were really close to stringing together some really strong outings. We’re starting to see it now."
Asterisk alert: The Orioles and Tigers are not the Astros, who will be in the Bronx on Tuesday for their first post-cheating-scandal visit and are likely to present more of a challenge.
The Yankees did their best not to bite on questions from reporters about the subplot of this week’s series, but catcher Kyle Higashioka appeared to smirk as he said this:
"I don’t think there’s any question how the fans are going to react to them coming into the stadium here. As to whether or not they deserve it, I think the fans will let them know."
The improving offense took a step backward against the Tigers on Sunday, totaling three hits, and the two-run second inning illustrated the fine line the run production is walking — literally.
It began with Gio Urshela hitting a dribbler down the third-base line that was allowed to roll and grazed the bag as it went by for an infield hit. It continued with Higashioka hitting a double that landed squarely on the foul line in leftfield.
Hey, that’s why they play 162 of these. The breaks even out. But Sunday was a strange one. Look no further than the game time. It was 2:14, something out of the 20th century, if not the 19th, thanks largely to Kluber’s efficiency in allowing two hits and striking out 10 in eight innings.
To review: The Yankees’ first month produced plenty of material for sports talk radio and baseball writers, but here we are in the first week of May and, as imperfect as they are, at least they have returned to "GO."
"We think we can still play much better baseball, but things are starting to square up," Boone said. "The at-bat quality, the defense, obviously the pitching is kind of leading the way for us here. Obviously, we were scuffling a little bit coming into this 13-day stretch [without an off day]. To play some winning baseball definitely feels good."
He said that even during the early struggles, the team did not lose heart.
"Our group at its core has a lot of confidence," he said. "We know we’re going to start getting it going and we’re definitely moving in that direction now, but we also understand we have to keep the pedal to the metal."
Brett Gardner also noted the positive trend. "Hopefully that continues into May," he said, "and as the weather heats up, we’ll heat up as a team."
One hundred and thirty-four games to go!