TAMPA, Fla. -- Clarke Schmidt found himself strutting around the mound after a few of his seven strikeouts on Thursday evening, each step its own miniature celebration. That brimming confidence was the right-hander’s favorite takeaway from a perfect performance.
Schmidt retired all 15 batters he faced in the Yankees’ 9-6 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field, keeping the Bucs’ bats silent by expertly mixing his slider, sinker, knuckle curve and cutter.
“I really liked my body language today,” Schmidt said. “That’s something Gerrit [Cole] and I talk a lot about. He’s obviously a beast with his body language. When I was out there, I felt like I was just focusing, pitch by pitch. When I’m in that headspace, I think that’s where I’m at my best.”
The Yankees’ likely No. 4 starter to open the season, with Carlos Rodón set to begin the year on the injured list and Nestor Cortes about a week behind the other pitchers due to a February hamstring strain, Schmidt rebounded nicely after a pair of spotty outings.
Schmidt allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings to the Tigers on March 3 and a couple of runs over three frames to the Red Sox on March 9, but he had everything working under the lights against Pittsburgh, finding a quick pace and throwing 36 of 50 pitches for strikes in front of a crowd of 9,899.
“That was pretty good right there,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He was dealing tonight. He was feeling it out there. When he’s pounding the strike zone and using both sides of the plate with what he’s now able to do pitch-package wise, that’s the kind of stuff he’s capable of. That was pretty electric.”
Boone has spoken optimistically about Schmidt’s budding cutter, a pitch that could allow him to enjoy success against left-handed hitters and turn the lineup over as a starter. Schmidt posted a 3.12 ERA in 29 games (three starts) last season, but he was 0-2 with a 4.63 ERA as a starter.
“Growing up, being a starter and being drafted as a starter, I feel kind of at home there,” Schmidt said. “I like being in the big leagues, so whatever it takes for that to happen.”
After Schmidt’s exit, former Yankee Miguel Andújar broke up the bid for a combined perfect game in the sixth inning, greeting Jimmy Cordero with a double to center field.