Sloppy Defense and Lackluster Offense Spoil Sonny Gray’s Yankees Debut
Sonny Gray may have had to fiddle a bit with his new blue cap, which was a size too big, but he otherwise looked at home in his travelling gray jersey as he made his much-anticipated debut on Thursday. Once he got on the mound, Gray made it clear why General Manager Brian Cashman had doggedly pursued him at the trade deadline.
Still, while Gray flashed some promise of what a legitimate front-line starter might do for the Yankees the rest of this season — and beyond — two circumstances conspired against him in a 5-1 loss to the Cleveland Indianson Thursday night.
Gray was done in first by his defense, which committed three errors in a Keystone Cop-like first inning, and then by Corey Kluber, the right-handed ace who looked as dominant against the Yankees as he did last October when he helped carry the Indians to the World Series.
The Yankees’ loss — their third in a row and their fourth in five games — dropped them two games behind Boston in the American League East, and the team finds itself in a worrying stretch as it heads into the dog days of the baseball season.
With the slumping Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier on the bench, the Yankees’ defense let the team down at the start on Thursday. First baseman Chase Headley and second baseman Tyler Wade — both relative newcomers to their positions — booted grounders, and right fielder Clint Frazier airmailed a throw to third base, allowing the Indians two unearned runs in the first.
The rest of the night was an exercise in futility against Kluber.
He threw a complete game, allowing three hits, and only one of them did any damage: a letter-high, 2-1 cutter that Gary Sanchez smacked over the wall in left-center field with one out in the seventh inning. Kluber struck out 11, walked one and was a picture of efficiency, needing only 106 pitches to finish off the Yankees.
While Manager Joe Girardi conceded that the Yankees’ offense had been sluggish lately, he credited the opposition on Thursday. “Kluber had a lot to do with it tonight,” he said. “I’m watching his stuff, the pitches he’s throwing, they’re putting them on the board, too. His stuff is dynamite.”
Against Kluber’s lofty standard, Gray was something less — but not much.
Beginning his delivery with a deliberate leg kick — Gray gives the impression on the mound that he is practicing tai chi — he worked effectively with his fastball, slider, changeup and curveball at the bottom of the strike zone, often leaving the Indians off balance with late sinking movement.
Gray, who pitched with the worst defense in baseball in Oakland, might have been forgiven if he thought that the iron-gloved A’s had followed him east. But he showed fewer signs of frustration with his teammates than he did with himself for missing with a pitch here and there.
“I thought he was awesome,” Headley said. “He’s a perfectionist. You could see when he threw a pitch he wasn’t happy with, he was upset with himself. It’s just fun to play with a guy that competes like that.”
After the three errors, Gray retired nine of the next 10 batters.
And after he walked Brandon Guyer to put runners at first and second with one out in the fourth, he retired Yan Gomes on a weak grounder and blew a 94-mile-per-hour. full-count fastball past Erik Gonzalez. Gray calmly walked off the mound afterward,
The Indians finally took advantage of Gray in the sixth. He walked Carlos Santana on four pitches with two outs and then gave up a single to Guyer before Gomes belted a two-run double high off the left-field wall to make it 4-0. That pitch to Gomes, a first-pitch, hanging slider, was Gray’s one regret.
“I feel like I threw the ball O.K.,” Gray said. “But at the same time, if I can shut that sixth inning down, it’s a completely different ballgame. It’s just one of those things that got away from me for a couple of different hitters, and they took advantage. It gave them all the momentum for the last three innings.”
The way the Yankees’ offense was working — or wasn’t — against Kluber, it was a mountain for them to climb.
Other than Sanchez’s home run, they put just one runner in scoring position. When Frazier laced a double into the right-field corner to lead off the fourth — the first hit against Kluber — it proved to be a momentary blip. Didi Gregorius advanced Frazier to third with a fly ball to deep center, but Kluber struck out Sanchez — who chased a curveball in the dirt — and got Jacoby Ellsbury to hit a slow roller to first that kicked off the bag and right into the glove of first baseman Carlos Santana.
After being shut out for only the second time this season in Wednesday’s 2-0 rain-delayed loss to Detroit, Manager Joe Girardi sat Judge, who was hitting .164 since the All-Star break, and Holliday, who was hitting .143 since he returned from a viral illness after the break. Frazier is one for his last 19.
“You look at these guys their second halves — Judge and especially Holliday — it’s nothing compared to what their first halves have been,” Girardi said of the two anchors to his lineup for most of the season. “And these guys are really important to us. Again, you can keep running them out there, and then you can run them into the ground, and that probably doesn’t help. Or you can say, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you a day and see if we can get things straightened out.’”