That was another boring game from the Yankees. There was an encouraging start from Corey Kluber, but that was the only positive to take from the contest. The Yankees lose to Atlanta by the score of 4-1. They are 6-11 on the season. Let’s get to the takeaways.
An Improved Corey Kluber
While the line isn’t going to look pretty, this was easily Corey Kluber’s best start in his early Yankees career. The knee-jerk reaction would be, “well, he couldn’t be any worse,” and that would be pretty off base. Through his first three starts, Kluber has generally shown good stuff. The velocity has been down, but there is good movement on multiple pitches. The biggest issue for Kluber is his control and command. There was some progress on that front in this game.
During the broadcast, David Cone repeatedly mentioned Kluber’s need to control the east and west portions of the strike zone. He lives on the corners with both his cutter and slider. If he isn’t flashing command on both the inner and outer portions of the zone, it will be a battle for him. Over his first three starts, we could see flashes of that, but many non-competitive pitches missed the corners. He would get swing and misses on some nasty offerings, but there were many instances when pitches were balls as soon as they left his hand. Kluber did a better job of hitting the corners for the majority of this start with his curveball.
Kluber threw a cutter, curve, sinker, and slider tonight. There were two changeups in there, but we can throw those out. It was clear that Kluber felt good about his curve. He threw the pitch 37% of the time. The cutter was second in usage at 25%. Kluber did his best work with the curve. Here is his pitch chart:
If you’re looking at the corners and down in the zone, you can see many good things here. He painted the corners. His ability to expand the zone is also encouraging. It felt like he finally found a pitch that allows him to control both sides of the zone and induce soft contact.
Speaking of soft contact, Kluber did a fantastic job of contact management today. If you’re struggling to find consistent control, a pitcher must minimize hard contact. A pitcher won’t survive if he has to come in the zone and gives up rockets all over the place. Kluber did well to avoid Atlanta’s barrels in this start:
Outside of two Sandoval at-bats, Atlanta couldn’t square up Kluber. There were a lot of off-balance swings throughout his start. This is the result of controlling the edges and strong pitch mixture. He threw his curve, cutter, and sinker over 20% of the time. The hitters could never really hone in on a pattern or zone. It was just good and smart pitching from Kluber.
The one downside to the start was the fifth inning. He clearly tired in the frame. His pitches were up in the zone, and he lost the corners throughout the inning. He surrendered three walks and put the team in a pretty tough situation. We will get to that in a moment. This is Kluber’s final pitch chart:
At first glance, this doesn’t look great, but context matters. Many of the pitches up in the zone came from the fifth inning when he ran out of gas. There are definitely encouraging signs from tonight’s game for Kluber. The movement is there, and he’s beginning to find the edges. This is a nice start to build on.
The Bullpen Decision That Changed The Game
This heading may be a little harsh but play along with me. Kluber exits the game in the fifth, with the bases loaded after three walks. Boone had Nick Nelson and Lucas Luetge warming in the pen. To Boone’s defense, Kluber was rolling, and then the inning quickly changed. I wouldn’t have warmed the pen up to start the inning, given Kluber’s control of the game. The issue was who the Yankees had up in the pen.
Although it was the fifth inning, this was clearly a pivotal moment in the game. We all know how poor the offense has performed this season. Run prevention is the most important thing the Yankees can control at the moment. Darren O’Day did not pitch yesterday. He’s on two days’ rest and is a veteran reliever who entered tough situations over his career. O’Day also has a funky delivery that can challenge the righty, Marcel Ozuna. The Yankees need one out to escape the jam. The decision to go with Nick Nelson instead of O’Day was a poor one.
You don’t need to save O’Day for a jam later in the game. The game is in the balance in the fifth inning. If Ozuna gets a hit there, it becomes hard to imagine the Yankees’ current offense being able to come from behind. Nick Nelson has talent. His stuff can be electric. He also hasn’t done anything to earn the game’s highest leverage moment. His opener performance against Tampa tells us he isn’t ready yet to take on a lineup’s best hitters. He also has the most control issues of anyone in the Yankees pen. The decision to go with Nelson was baffling. Predictably, he quickly walks Ozuna, and the game was pretty much out of reach in the fifth inning.
I don’t want to bash Boone. His decision-making isn’t the primary reason why they’re in this rough stretch. Boone does have to help the team out in these moments, though. O’Day is clearly the best option for that situation on a night when the manager is trying to stay away from his top relievers. There is still one top reliever available, and you have to read the magnitude of the moment. The fifth inning called for Boone to keep his team within striking distance, and he chose the wrong door. When it rains, it pours, but sometimes you need someone to bring an umbrella to keep you dry. Boone left the umbrella at home.
The Offense Falters Again
There isn’t much to say about the offense. It stinks right now. They’re not driving the ball. They’re not having good at-bats. They’re missing meatballs. They’re letting meatballs go by. They didn’t drive the ball into the outfield more than five times at the most tonight. They’re not just experiencing a power outage. The Yankees aren’t hitting the ball hard. It is bizarre and totally out of character.
The one thing I do want to touch upon is this idea of perception and eyewash. Because the Yankees aren’t hitting the ball, the focus is now on the team’s effort. There are now suggestions that the Yankees aren’t playing hard. There is one play making the rounds: Gleyber’s ground ball in front of the plate in the seventh inning. When things aren’t going right, people start taking liberties with their perceptions. It can’t possibly be as simple as the team not having good at-bats. It has to be a matter of effort and really wanting it. The Yankees don’t want it enough. Why else would Gleyber not run 3,000 MPH on a 25 footer in front of the plate?
Because displays like that are total eyewash. Gleyber running super hard down the line in forty-degree weather right after Gio Urshela left the game with back tightness while *running to first base* isn’t changing the outcome of the play. It doesn’t change how we feel about Gleyber as a player. The Yankees aren’t scoring a run on the play. His speed to first base is doing absolutely nothing to change the fate of the game. The only thing it’s doing is playing into a silly misperception of effort and competitive spirit. Gleyber wants to win. Gleyber posts up every day. His effort isn’t an issue and never will be. I don’t want the starting shortstop risking some soft tissue injury to satisfy some WFAN callers and some Twitter accounts. I need to see a healthy Gleyber get out of his rut.
The bigger issue on the play was the check swing. It’s a 1-1 count, and he took an unconvincing and off-balance “swing.” That is what we should be talking about. The at-bats suck. I don’t care if Gleyber takes ten minutes and trots around the bases backward if he jacks one out there. I want to see him hit some bombs from the fifth spot in the lineup. That is the “effort” the team needs and not some sprint speed test for Statcast.
The Yankees will face a non-East team in the regular season for the first time since 2019. How wild is that? They will face the Cleveland baseball team in Cleveland. It will be Doming Germán against Aaron Civale. The game starts at 6:10pm. Enjoy your night.