NEW YORK -- The Yankees have dealt with injuries throughout the season, and it has led to some pretty unexpected outcomes, like the offensive heroics of Gio Urshela and Thairo Estrada. A new source of unexpected strength on the pitching side appears to be brewing for the Yankees, who on Monday won their third game of the season started by Chad Green, defeating the Padres, 5-2, at Yankee Stadium.
What’s so special about those wins in Green’s starts? They’ve come with a plan that’s new for the Yankees: using Green as an opener by having him pitch two innings or fewer to start the game off, then getting to a more stretched-out reliever for the brunt of the frames before delving into the rest of the bullpen. The Yankees have tried this in 2019 with in-season injuries to James Paxton and CC Sabathia, and Luis Severino having not pitched for the team this year.
“It’s just going out there and making pitches,” Green said. “It’s not any different from pitching in the sixth, besides that you’re the first one out there.”
The recipe has varied slightly in each outing, but the result has been the same: a Yankees win. On Monday, Green started the team off with a scoreless inning -- the first time he has had a shutout start in this new format.
“[The bullpen arms] were great all day. It started with Greeny,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “That’s overpowering, dominating Greeny when he’s at his best right there. Three hitters, and some good hitters in there, obviously. He set the tone.”
Even with his quick inning, needing just 14 pitches to strike out Greg Garcia, Franmil Reyes and Manny Machado, the Yankees didn’t send Green back out for a second frane. Boone said that the plan was a one-inning outing given Green’s workload lately. He also started Saturday's game in Kansas City.
Green was asked after the game if he has been preparing for these opener starts any differently, a notion that he dispelled.
“I just try to treat it like a normal outing,” Green said. “Try not to do anything too crazy, not try to spend too much time getting ready. Just kind of get to the bullpen, do what I’m going to do and go out there.”
Green yielded to David Hale, who pitched four frames of two-run ball. Hale allowed two runs in the second, his first inning of work, before settling down. After the game, Hale said he adjusted when he realized his pace was off in that initial inning. His improved pace allowed him to go deeper into the game.
“I knew my role was to eat as many innings as I could and give the bullpen a break,” Hale said.
Added Boone: “We needed him today, we absolutely needed him to get through the middle innings, and he did. He settled in and got real pitch-efficient, and then we’re able to roll the guys out and they did their thing.”
All of that added up to a 5-2 win for the Yankees and a win for Hale. Pitcher victories are not the end-all, be-all of statistics, but sometimes, they can provide a fun anecdote. Hale’s win was his first since Sept. 25, 2015, for the Rockies, in a game he started against the Dodgers.
Asked after the game if it felt like he hadn’t gotten a win in a while, Hale’s face lit up.
“I didn’t even think about that,” Hale said. When told the date of his last win, he said, “Oh wow. That’s pretty cool, yeah. It’s felt like a while.”
With Paxton potentially coming off the injured list on Wednesday and Sabathia in a position to return if healthy on Sunday, the Yankees may not need to use the strategy again in the near future. But at least for the time being, it has worked.