MLB.com Columnist

Mark Feinsand

With Yanks' rotation depth tested, Gray delivers

With Yanks' rotation depth tested, Gray delivers

NEW YORK -- It was only a couple weeks ago that the Yankees traded for Sonny Gray, adding what they believed to be a front-line starter to their rotation.

The need for such a pitcher was obvious for a team with October aspirations, but Gray's arrival led some to wonder something else: What the heck were the Yankees going to do with Jaime Garcia, the lefty they had acquired only one day earlier in a trade with the Twins?

The Yanks, it seemed, had too many starting pitchers.

Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery were all healthy and pitching relatively well. Michael Pineda's torn elbow ligament had left a 6-foot-7 hole in the rotation, but Gray was more than capable of filling that void. Garcia? His arrival meant somebody else had to go unless the Yankees planned to use a six-man rotation, an idea they immediately quashed.

Fast forward to Tuesday, when Luis Cessa became the third Yanks starter to land on the disabled list in the past week, joining Sabathia and Tanaka. Suddenly Gray and Garcia aren't merely luxuries, but rather 50 percent of manager Joe Girardi's healthy starting pitchers.

"It's really become important now, just because of the injuries that we've sustained to Tanaka, CC, now Cessa and Michael," Girardi said. "When you talk about Spring Training and you go to camp, people say, 'We've got five healthy starters.' You better have nine or 10. By adding those two guys, that's really what we have."

When Gray and Garcia made their Yankees debuts, they became the 10th and 11th pitchers to start a game for the club this season, a number topped by only eight of the other 29 teams in the Majors.

"Nobody seems to have blinked an eye," reliever David Robertson said. "When somebody goes down, somebody else steps up and does the job. Then when you factor in the depth of our bullpen, everybody is doing their part."

(This is the part where we feel inclined to mention Aroldis Chapman's recent struggles and supposedly minor hamstring issue, though that's for another column at another time.)

Gray whiffs Cabrera

Sabathia is slated to return Saturday, taking back the spot Cessa had been filling during his absence. Tanaka could replace Montgomery as soon as next week, though he must pass a couple of tests before that becomes a reality.

Gray certainly looked the part of front-line starter Tuesday night, dominating the Mets with six scoreless innings before serving up a two-run homer to Dominic Smith in the seventh. Garcia will have his first chance to leave a mark on the Subway Series on Wednesday as the Yanks try to keep pace with the first-place Red Sox before heading to Boston for three crucial games this weekend, the last of which will be started by Gray.

"They've both been through it," catcher Austin Romine said. "They know what they're doing."

The storm, it seems, may finally be ready to pass.

Girardi had been curious to see how Gray would respond to his first taste of the Subway Series, which while far from the intensity of October, still took place in front of a packed ballyard in the Bronx. The righty looked sharp for six frames, allowing only four hits and one walk. Gray went back out for the seventh with 94 pitches, but he couldn't record an out with any of his next 10 pitches, issuing a walk before Smith drilled his first career homer.

That left Gray's line looking identical to his first two with the Yankees, only this time, his teammates backed him with four runs against Jacob deGrom, which was precisely four more than they had totaled during his first 12 innings with New York.

Gray's nice play off the mound

"The crowd was great," Gray said. "I was just trying to go out there and pitch my game and not let anything from the outside affect my mindset."

Credit Gray for not trying to do too much in his past two starts given the onslaught of injuries that have hit the rotation since his arrival. Some of that praise must also go to Girardi, who made sure his newest pitcher didn't attempt to put the team on his back when the waters got rough.

"When I came in here, the first thing Skip told me was I'm just a piece of the puzzle; not necessarily the piece, but just another solid piece that we have," Gray said. "That's the way I've tried to go about every day; just do what you've always done."

With Severino and Gray atop the rotation and both Sabathia and Tanaka nearing a return, the Yanks may do more than simply weather this latest rotation storm; they could emerge from it as good as they've been all season by the time the pennant race enters its final stretch.

"What I've learned real early is that this is a team," Gray said. "Everyone is picking everyone up, no matter what. That's the way it needs to be."

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.