The Yankees won two out of their three games in Anaheim against the Angels. Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts both hit their first homer of the season in the series, and the Yankees had dominating starts from Hiroki Kuroda and Vidal Nuno in the two wins.
Nuno, who is from San Diego and was pitching in front of his family and friends for the first time since high school, had his second excellent start while replacing Ivan Nova in the rotation. In his first outing, on April 20, Nuno shutout the Rays and only allowed three hits in five innings, and on Wednesday, he pitched 6.1 innings, allowed four hits and only one run.
He is a 26-year-old who was pitching in the independent Frontier League for the Washington Wild Things in 2011 before the Yankees signed him and assigned him to the Staten Island Yankees of the New York-Pennsylvania League. He does not throw very fast, but works deliberately on the mound and relies on a plus changeup and other off-speed pitches.
Nuno has been able to neutralize to potent offenses as he has pitched well against the Rays and Angels, which makes it seem like he could be a solid addition to the rotation for the long haul. He has a 5.47 ERA for the season, but his ERA would be much lower if it was not for the seven runs that he allowed in 3.1 innings of relief on April 8 against the Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees, whose bullpen was a question mark heading into the series as there wasn’t a proven set-up man or closer, have had a few members of their bullpen really step up this season. Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Preston Claiborne, David Robertson and Shawn Kelley have all pitched well and have given Joe Girardi a number of options that he can rely on.
Specifically in the series against the Angels, Claiborne, who has pitched well this season after struggling in September of last season, pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, Betances allowed a run in 1.2 innings while striking out two and Robertson struck out one in the ninth to record his fifth save of the season.
On Monday, the bullpen had one of their few hiccups of the season, as Kelley’s three runs allowed in the eighth led to the lone loss of the series for the Yankees (and also bumped his ERA from 1.88 to 3.60). However, other than that game, he picked up four saves while Robertson was on the disabled list, had not allowed a run in 12 of his previous 14 appearances and has 16 strikeouts to seven walks on the season, which includes three walks from the game on Monday.
Betances, who went to high school in Brooklyn, has been a bright spot as he made the opening day roster for the first time. His strikeout to walk ratio is outstanding given that he has 30 strikeouts and only nine walks. After throwing many pitches as a starter, he has found success while predominantly throwing his upper 90s fastball and slurve in the bullpen. After not being able to throw his curveball for strikes in the 2012 regular season, his teammate in the Arizona Fall League, Michael O’Brien, showed him a new way to grip his curveball. It is a mixture between a curve and slider, hence the word slurve.
Betances has a 2.08 ERA so far, and he is starting to pitch in higher leverage situations based on how reliable he has been. He has impressively struck out two or more batters in 12 of his appearances and he can thank his increased control and slurve for that success.
It was expected for Robertson to pitch well and he has not disappointed. D-Rob missed 15 games early on as a result of a strained groin, but that has not limited him after his return. He has a 1.13 ERA, five saves and seven strikeouts to only four hits in his first season after taking over for the great Mariano Rivera.
Warren, who is in his second full season in the majors, has been a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen. The converted starter had a 3.39 ERA last season in the pen, and he is pitching much better this season. His confidence is showing as he has a 1.40 ERA in 19.1 innings, 16 strikeouts, four holds and only four walks. Warren’s emergence gives the Yankees three reliable arms behind Robertson in the bullpen, to go along with the veteran Matt Thornton.