NEW YORK -- The acquisition of left-hander Zach Britton added depth to an already deep Yankees bullpen, giving the club reassurance if a starter would have to exit the game early. When right-hander Sonny Gray's solid night was cut short after getting hit in the hand with a comebacker, the Yankees' game plan was on full display.
Gray tossed five stellar innings of three-hit ball, allowing just two walks and striking out five, and Britton worked a scoreless eighth inning in his Yankees debut to lead New York to a 7-2 victory over Kansas City on Thursday evening at Yankee Stadium.
It was a bittersweet victory for the Yankees, who pulled within 4 1/2 games of first-place Boston, because they lost Aaron Judge after he sustained a chip fracture of his right wrist (ulnar styloid bone) on a hit-by-pitch in the first inning. The Yankees said that it will be at least three weeks before Judge will be able to swing a bat in a game situation, but surgery was not recommended.
Just one inning after Judge was pulled from the game, Gray was looked at by the Yankees' training staff after the comebacker in the fifth, but he remained on the mound for the remainder of the inning. With runners on second and third and two outs, the right-hander escaped the jam by striking out Rosell Herrera. But after throwing just 75 pitches, Gray did not come back out for the sixth inning because of the injury.
"It feels OK," Gray said. "It kind of just got me on the side, kind of my thumb. I don't think it's anything too serious. Once you sit down, you can kind of feel throbbing, and I think they wanted to be cautious and get out of the game there and move forward. I mean, I fully expect to pitch in five, six days, whenever my next start is."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that Gray would get an X-ray after the game just for precautionary reasons.
"He's been examined by the doctors," Boone said. "We think it's just the muscle part of the thumb."
The Yankees gave Gray an early 2-0 lead in the first on a sacrifice fly by Giancarlo Stanton and another run scored on an error by shortstop Raul Mondesi. In the fourth, Austin Romine doubled in a run to deep left-center field before Didi Gregorius launched the Yankees' first home run in four games, a three-run blast to right for his 18th of the season off Royals starter Jakob Junis, who allowed seven runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings. The team picked up an insurance run on a sacrifice fly by Greg Bird in the fifth.
Just four pitches after Gray was pulled, Adam Warren gave up a two-run homer to Salvador Perez to get the Royals on the board, but Player Page for David Robertson, Britton and Chasen Shreve shut the Kansas City offense down for the remainder of the game.
"That was what was unfortunate," Gray said. "I felt really good and then get hit in the hand, and then you kind of battle through the fifth there. I felt good. That was what kind of sucked there a little bit, not being able to continue on in the game, but the bullpen came in and did a great job. We got an early lead and we were able to come away with the win."
In his first time in pinstripes, Britton induced two groundouts and struck out Perez for a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 inning.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
After a walk loaded the bases with two outs in the third inning, Mike Moustakas came to the plate with the Royals trailing, 2-0. Gray worked a 1-2 count before striking Moustakas out on an 83.3-mph curveball to escape the jam. Gray let out a big roar in celebration as he walked off the mound.
"In some of the bad [starts] early [in the season], I would have two outs with a runner on second and third or a runner on first and third, something with that nature, and give up a three-run homer or a two-run double or give up the big hit," Gray said. "I've really tried to lock in in those particular moments of the game and those particular at-bats of the game, and really bear down and do whatever it takes to get those guys out. Lately, I've been getting the guys out when there's two outs and a couple of runners on. Hopefully, I continue to do that and get on a little bit of a roll there."
In his last three starts, Gray has gone 3-0 with a 1.10 ERA. On Thursday night, Gray recorded three straight wins for the first time since July 5-19, 2017.
"I think he's getting into some better rhythms," Boone said. "I think he's simplified a little bit in the stuff. More counts where he's ahead in the count, so he's dictating counts and I think really the last few starts, there's been a lot of times where he has gotten in that jam, he's made some really good pitches."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Aaron Hicks helped end the game in dramatic fashion by nailing Alex Gordon -- who ran through third-base coach Mike Jirschele's stop sign on Whit Merrifield's single -- at the plate from center field. Hicks' throw clocked in at 98.7 mph, according to Statcast™, which is the sixth-hardest outfield assist in the Majors this year.
"When I picked my head up, I saw the third-base coach was stopping him, but I still put a good throw and I was able to get him out," Hicks said. "I felt really good. I felt like the throw was on line, and if it was on line, I was going to be able to get him out. That's what happened." More >
Carsten Sabathia (6-4, 3.51 ERA) will make his first start since the All-Star break on Friday in the second game of the four-game set against the Royals at Yankee Stadium. Originally slated to start Tuesday vs. the Rays, Sabathia's start was pushed back after Sunday night's rainout against the Mets to give the 38-year-old extended rest and some time off his troublesome knee. Right-hander Brad Keller (3-4, 3.20 ERA) will get the ball for Kansas City, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.