NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Yankees aren’t fooled by their first-place record. They know their starting pitching could use a tweak or two.
Which explains why they were reportedly one of the teams on hand to watch free agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel throw a simulated game in Newport Beach, Calif., on Sunday.
Keuchel was sought after during the initial free agent signing period last winter, but has yet to secure a deal, presumably because he has not relented on his demands, which are believed to include more security in terms of years.
If the Yankees are to sign the 31-year-old left-hander, they can do so after next Monday, June 3, without giving up draft compensation. Whether general manager Brian Cashman is willing to give Keuchel a contract that goes beyond this season is not known.
Keuchel doesn’t exactly fit in with the Yankees’ fascination with power pitchers, but with all the injuries they have suffered this season they are probably more inclined to bring someone in who knows what he’s doing, regardless of his style. Keuchel was, if nothing else, a craftsman during his first seven MLB seasons, all with the Houston Astros.
He parlayed his low-90s fastball and sinker with a slider, cutter and change that turned him into one of the premiere groundball pitchers in the game, just the type of approach one needs to excel in a homer-happy stadium, like the one in the Bronx.
The question is whether he still has the same type of freakish command he displayed earlier in his career.
The 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner is coming off a bit of a down year, going just 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA last season, but has said he enjoys pitching in New York, and has a career 2.45 ERA at Yankee Stadium to prove it.
Overall, Keuchel is 76-63 with a 3.66 ERA in 192 appearances, including 183 starts. He is 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 career postseason appearances, including nine starts.
The Yankees need the help because the injury bug that has decimated their lineup has also taken a big bite out of their rotation. Presumed ace Luis Severino hasn’t thrown a pitch yet in the regular season due to a right rotator cuff injury and a Grade 2 left lat strain, the latter suffered while he was rehabbing the former. He’s not expected back until after the All-Star break in mid-July.
Offseason acquisition James Paxton has been solid in seven starts this season, pitching to a 3.11 ERA with 52 strikeouts over 37 2/3 innings, but he’s currently sidelined due to an MCL issue in his left knee. He reported feeling soreness in a recent extended spring training start, but could rejoin the Yankees’ rotation soon. Manager Aaron Boone told reporters on Sunday the veteran left-hander may have to deal with the discomfort for the rest of the season.
“We hope it’s something that when he comes back and is pitching, it’s something that continues to improve over time,” Boone said. “There is the possibility it could be one of those things he’s got to grind through.”
Veteran CC Sabathia, who in a perfect world would be the Bombers’ fifth starter, was put on the 10-day injured list last week due to a right knee injury that required a cortisone shot.
Veteran J.A. Happ is healthy, but pitching to an unsightly 5.09 ERA through 11 starts, and youngster Domingo German, who has basically saved the Yankees’ season by going 9-1 with a 3.43 ERA through his first 11 appearances as the replacement for Severino, has never pitched more than 85 2/3 innings in a MLB season.
If the Yankees ultimately decide against signing Keuchel they’ll likely look to swing a deal before the July 31 trade deadline. A potential target could be San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner. Though he reportedly has New York on his no-trade list, the 29-year-old left-hander, who will be a free agent at season’s end, could use it as leverage to get a longer-term contract from the Yankees, not to necessarily nix a deal.
Despite all the injuries plaguing this team, the Yankees entered Monday’s game against visiting San Diego with a 34-18 record and two-game lead over second-place Tampa Bay in the AL East.