As much as the Yankees value the power-packed arms in their bullpen, none of it works unless they get quality starting pitching. That was the lesson of the first several weeks of the season when they wandered all the way to the basement of the AL East.
But Nathan Eovaldi provided their sixth straight quality start with six innings of two-hit pitching, and not coincidentally, the Yankees extended their season-high winning streak to six with a 6-0 victory over Toronto Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The win also got the Yankees back to .500 (22-22) for the first time since they were 4-4 on April 14.
Carlos Beltran did the most damage at the plate, driving in the first two runs, including a solo homer in the fourth. The bonus was that the Yankees tacked on four late runs so that after using Dellin Betances to relieve Eovaldi in the seventh, they were able to save the other two big bullpen arms, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, for later in the three-game series.
Now that the Yankees are back to .500, manager Joe Girardi said, “It means we’re playing well. We were struggling mightily, but we seemed to feel it in the last 20 games. I hope we can find it in the next 20.”
In their past 18 games, the Yankees are an AL-best 13-5. It was Eovaldi, (5-2, 3.95 ERA), who began the current winning streak, and he extended his personal winning streak to five in his past six starts. Although he walked a season-high three batters, he had five strikeouts and succeeded in working his way out of jams in the second and third innings before retiring 12 straight batters.
“Starting pitching is what sustains you, and they’ve gotten it going,” Girardi said. “We’re getting contributions from everyone on the staff, and that’s the difference.”
When he ran into early trouble, Eovaldi was protecting a 1-0 lead that came courtesy of a leadoff triple in the first by Jacoby Ellsbury, who scored on a force out by Beltran against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (2-6). Eovaldi got in a bit of a jam in the second and third innings when he allowed a single and a walk in each inning and let the lead runner reach third base.
In the second, Eovaldi survived by getting ground balls from Kevin Pillar and Darwin Barney. In the third, Eovaldi had runners at second and third with one out after a sacrifice bunt and struck out Edwin Encarnacion before getting cleanup hitter Michael Saunders to fly out. After that, Eovaldi settled into a great rhythm and muted the power bats in Toronto’s lineup.
“I was just bearing down and trying not to do too much, make good pitches and try to get them to put the ball in play,” Eovaldi said. “I was aggressive and worked ahead in the count.
“In the first two or three innings, I fell behind to a lot of the batters. I was able to make the adjustments I needed to make. Austin [Romine] does a good job of getting me on track with the right pitch selection and Larry [pitching coach Rothschild] helps me between innings with the things we’ve worked on.”
Girardi pulled Eovaldi when he walked Troy Tulowitzki to lead off the seventh, and Betances finished that inning. Two runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth salted away the victory.
“Our starting pitching has been lights out,” first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “It gives the entire team room to do our thing. Starting pitching sets the tone.”