King experiment finding success: 'You've got to be excited'

August 30th, 2023

DETROIT -- With a 4.55 combined ERA that ranks 19th in baseball, it’s clear the Yankees’ rotation is in dire need of a pick-me-up. 

Injuries have played a key role in those struggles, but placing blame doesn’t provide solutions, nor does it help alleviate a bullpen that’s been forced into action a lot more often than what’s ideal.

On Tuesday night, brought some answers with him to the mound at Comerica Park, where the righty held his own for the second consecutive start, keeping the Tigers scoreless through his four innings during the Yankees’ 4-2 win.

King is the latest in New York’s strategy to help even out its starting corps. With a 3.08 ERA in 40 relief appearances this season and a background as a starter -- King got the nod in 59 games in the Minor Leagues -- he was the logical choice to stretch out as the Yanks evaluate how his stuff plays over several innings.

Manager Aaron Boone is a fan of what he’s seen so far from King.

“First and foremost, he’s confident,” Boone said. “He’s got a great disposition about him. He kind of has that starter look to him and way about him, and he's done it most of his life. 

“It's just a matter of, ‘Does it translate over the long haul?’ He’s getting more and more opportunities, and you’ve got to be excited about what you're seeing.”

What Boone saw during New York’s second win of the series was a Detroit team that wasn’t sure how to handle King, who sat down the first six batters he saw in order. The lone time he saw trouble was in the third, when two singles and an error put runners at second and third with one out.

King responded by coaxing an infield popout from Akil Baddoo and a groundout from Riley Greene to skirt damage.

“I felt great,” King said. “I think I came out of the gate a little too hot, because I remember -- I think it was in the second inning -- I realized that my velo was a little bit down, but every time I wanted to reach back for more, I felt like I could.”

Granted, King’s success came against the Tigers (59-73), who sit 14 games below .500, but Detroit also has a lineup stacked with young talent that’s aggressive at the plate and hungry to spark the offense. King allowed just three singles, struck out five and didn’t walk a batter. He topped 98 mph on the radar gun and drew seven swing-and-misses during his 61-pitch gem.

Though he didn’t figure in the decision, King put the Yankees in position to succeed, keeping the Tigers off the board while his teammates built a lead behind a Statcast-projected 454-foot home run from Gleyber Torres in the first and a solo shot from Kyle Higashioka in the fifth, then fortified it when Aaron Judge came home on a passed ball in the sixth. Anthony Volpe homered to lead off the ninth for the Yanks' final run.

Rookie right-hander Jhony Brito followed suit in King’s wake, with 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Wandy Peralta finished the final two outs of the eighth with no hiccups, and Clay Holmes weathered a two-run ninth to make things interesting before striking out Javier Báez swinging to put a bow on the win.

On Wednesday, New York, which hadn’t won back-to-back games since Aug. 2-3, can clinch its first series win in more than a month. The Yankees’ last series win came in a sweep of the Royals from July 21-23.

For New York to end its season on an upswing will take a cumulative effort, from guys taking care of their roles to guys stepping into new ones, and sometimes, guys doing a little bit of both.

King’s long-term role is far from determined, but every audition like he had in Detroit gives the Yankees a little more to think about.

“I think he definitely has the weapons to do it, it's just a matter of transitioning and can he then hold the stuff in extended outings,” Boone said. “But I think with what he's been through now in his career and the competencies gained as a pitcher in this league, and I think a real good understanding of what he has and what he can use, I wouldn't be surprised at anything he's able to do.”