CLEVELAND — As the 2019 Yankees try to avoid registering their first calendar decade without winning a pennant since 1910-1919, this is no time to contemplate macro issues.
Call me a troublemaker, though, as I can’t help but wonder: What do they have in Domingo German?
For this season, German, good or bad, represents a starting pitcher with an expiration date. For next season and beyond, can he be something more, so that the Yankees will be less hungry for rotation reinforcements? His trending discourages, yet it doesn’t disqualify.
On Friday night at Progressive Field, the 26-year-old registered his first loss since April 18, ending a stretch of eight straight starts without a blemish. He and the Yankees fell to the Indians, 5-2, for their third defeat in four tries on this road trip as Didi Gregorius’ season debut fizzled through no fault of the rehabilitated shortstop. The Yankees now lead the Rays, who beat the Red Sox on Friday, by just a half-game, with the two clubs even in the loss column.
In the eight millionth indicator that wins and losses are a terrible way to measure pitchers, this actually marked German’s best start of his past three, as he gave up four runs and six hits over six innings, walking one and striking out six, his longest effort in that stretch. He just fell victim too often to the gopher ball, surrendering Tyler Naquin’s game-tying solo blast in the fifth inning and then Carlos Santana’s game-winning, two-run shot in the sixth, as the Yankees did little against Indians rookie starting pitcher Zach Plesac (nephew of longtime reliever and current MLB Network commentator Dan Plesac) to give the young man his first big league win.
“I’m feeling good out there,” German, acquired by the Yankees from the Marlins in the 2014 trade that also landed them Nathan Eovaldi, said through an interpreter. “But it’s about making the adjustments and not committing those mistakes. They were able to take advantage at the right time of a couple of pitches that I missed in the zone. I’m trying to keep the command going.”
German has surrendered eight homers in his past four starts.
“Look, you want to keep the ball in the ballpark, no question,” Aaron Boone said. “So that’s about just being a little sharper and convicted with our pitches and obviously execution. But especially, you look around the league now, more and more guys are set up, when they make a mistake, to do damage with it.”
Boone, who is analytically inclined, said: “I think if we really dive into the pitches, to the quality of his pitches, still getting some swings and misses. It’s there. He’s gotten hurt with a couple of mistakes.”
The Indians swung and missed at nine of German’s 92 pitches on Friday, as per Brooks Baseball’s Pitchf/x tool. That ranks at the lower end of the range for his starts this season and his lowest since he registered eight whiffs at the Giants on April 28.
Asked if he’s feeling fatigue — with 70 innings pitched, he’s rapidly approaching last year’s big league career high of 85 ²/₃ — German said he wasn’t and added, “This is just getting started.”
With an innings limit likely in the 150 range, German can offer another 13 or 14 starts if he can find a second wind; to be fair, an outing like Friday’s will often get him and this team a win. Beyond that, with so many health questions in their rotation, the Yankees know they’ll need help, and you know by now the obvious trade targets are the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman.
German, with an ERA that has risen from 2.50 to 3.86 in his past four starts, has intriguing enough stuff, with 77 strikeouts against just 19 walks, to suggest he can be something more than a valuable plug-in.
“When Sevy [Luis Severino] went down,” Gregorius noted of his young teammate, “he stepped up big.”
We should want to see more of him. We’ll get it, for the short term. And that will help determine German’s long term.
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