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Run support is 'Pickles' bread and butter

Gray K's nine over seven one-run frames as Yanks' offense steps up
Special to MLB.com

NEW YORK -- There was only so much Sonny Gray (aka "Pickles" for Players Weekend) could do. He hadn't been bad in his first four starts as a Yankee, but even a good pitcher doesn't turn into a winning pitcher when his team doesn't score.

So there he was Saturday, finally handed a significant lead when Jacoby Ellsbury (aka "Chief") hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning against the Mariners. There he was, and you saw the results.

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NEW YORK -- There was only so much Sonny Gray (aka "Pickles" for Players Weekend) could do. He hadn't been bad in his first four starts as a Yankee, but even a good pitcher doesn't turn into a winning pitcher when his team doesn't score.

So there he was Saturday, finally handed a significant lead when Jacoby Ellsbury (aka "Chief") hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning against the Mariners. There he was, and you saw the results.

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After Ellsbury's home run cleared the fence to put the Yankees ahead, Gray didn't give up another run. He pitched seven innings and allowed just three hits, and he gave the Yankees a 6-3 win.

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Gray lowered his ERA as a Yankee to 2.70, with a fifth consecutive start allowing no more than two earned runs. He's 2-3 in those five starts, mostly because the Yankees scored just one run against the Indians and Red Sox, and didn't score at all against the Blue Jays.

"He's handled that well," manager Joe Girardi said. "He just goes out and does his job. When we score runs, he wins."

Video: SEA@NYY: Girardi on Ellsbury's clutch at-bats in win

Gray has said little about the lack of support, and he didn't want to say the Ellsbury homer and the lead Saturday had any effect on his pitching, either. He was more willing to talk about his curve and slider, which he was happy with from the start of Saturday's game, and about his fastball, which he said was "erratic" early but came on later in the game.

"If anything, [the home run] just instilled a little more confidence in him," catcher Austin Romine (aka "Ro") said.

The Yankees, fighting for a postseason spot, were happy to see the offense, no matter who they had on the mound. They've been inconsistent scoring runs of late, and Friday they lost, 2-1, to the Mariners in 11 innings.

Video: SEA@NYY: Castro rips a two-run single for insurance

Starlin Castro (aka "All-Starlin") and Greg Bird both came off the disabled list this weekend, which could help. Bird reached base three times Saturday in his first game since May 1, and it was his two-out single that started the rally that culminated with Ellsbury's home run. Castro's two-run, two-out single in the seventh gave the Yankees a little breathing room.

Ellsbury has been healthy of late, but his .186 average since spending a month on the concussion DL had led to reduced playing time. Ellsbury had started just one of the Yankees' past five games before Girardi put him in the lineup Saturday against Mariners right-hander Yovani Gallardo.

"I think he's handled it very well," Girardi said.

Video: SEA@NYY: Ellsbury belts a three-run jack for 4-1 lead

Saturday's home run won't guarantee Ellsbury more playing time, with Girardi committed to using Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks (aka "A-A-Ron") and Aaron Judge (aka "All Rise) most often in the outfield. But the home run did mean a lot on this day.

It meant an early lead for Gray, which seemed important for a pitcher who hadn't been getting support. And it eventually meant a win for the Yankees, which by the end of the season, could seem even more important.

Video: SEA@NYY: Gray and Bird on Yankees' 6-3 win

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com based in New York.

New York Yankees, Sonny Gray