The Yankees dropped a heartbreaking series at the Trop, but it was perhaps the most encouraging baseball they’ve played in weeks. They were right there with the first-place Rays until the final pitch of every game and could’ve swept the series if not for a handful of ill-timed mental errors. They return home to host the A’s, who could be just the opponent they need to face to continue rebuilding their confidence.
Monday: Nestor Cortes vs. JP Sears (7:05 pm ET)
Nestor Cortes was originally scheduled to pitch in the Rays series, but a bout with strep throat pushed that outing to the series opener against the A’s. He needs to bounce back from consecutive poor outings — four runs in five innings against the Twins followed by a downright dismal day in Texas when he got shelled for seven runs without making it out of the fifth. Outside of a 64.8 percent flyball rate that’s almost 20 points higher than last season’s mark, there are no glaring flaws that could explain this recent dip in form. He’s pitching with slightly diminished velocity and he probably lags about a half-step behind the precise command of last season. In six starts, Cortes is 3-2 with a 4.91 ERA (88 ERA+), 4.70 FIP, and 35 strikeouts in 33 innings.
We get an old friend sighting as JP Sears gets the ball in a battle of the southpaws. He opened eyes as one of the next men up for the Yankees in 2022, pitching to a 2.05 ERA in seven appearances before being included in the deadline day trade for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino. Facing his former team after the trade, Sears gave up three runs on eight hits and four walks in six innings. This year, Sears is 0-2 in six starts, with a 5.06 ERA (82 ERA+), 5.11 FIP, and 34 strikeouts in 32 innings.
Tuesday: Clarke Schmidt vs. Drew Rucinski (7:05 pm ET)
Clarke Schmidt gets the middle game coming off one of the better starts of an otherwise bleak beginning to his campaign. He limited the Guardians to two unearned runs in 4.1 innings, keeping his team in a contest they would eventually walk off in extras. That being said, a lot of the same hard contact issues that have plagued his season cropped up in that game, and he was perhaps lucky they didn’t do more damage. Out of 384 qualified pitchers, Schmidt sits in the bottom-25 in both average exit velocity and hard hit rate as he just does not possess the command necessary to miss bats across an entire start. In seven starts, Schmidt is 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA (74 ERA+), 5.14 FIP, and 36 strikeouts in 29.1 innings.
Schmidt will face one of the few starters in baseball who has experienced a more nightmarish opening to their campaign than he has. 34-year-old journeyman Drew Rucinski spent the last four seasons in KBO, going 53-36 with a 3.06 ERA and 657 strikeouts in 732.2 innings — enough to entice the A’s to offer him a one-year deal this winter. He leans heavily on four-seam/sinker combo, neither of which will touch 90 mph. As such, he doesn’t strike guys out, instead relying on soft contact to get through an outing. In two starts, Rucinski has a 7.71 ERA (55 ERA+), 7.22 FIP, and four strikeouts in 9.1 innings.
Wednesday: Jhony Brito vs. Kyle Muller (12:35 pm ET)
Jhony Brito goes in the series finale continuing to search for ways to fool major league hitters. He’s been effective in pushing counts to two strikes, but struggles mightily to finish off at-bats. His raw stuff and command just aren’t sharp enough to induce the swing and miss you’d hope for out of a member of the starting rotation — out of all pitchers who have thrown at least 400 pitches, Brito has the tenth-highest overall foul rate (21.4 percent) and the second-highest foul rate (33.3 percent) in two-strike counts. Until he masters a third pitch — likely the curveball — these struggles seem likely to persist. Across seven starts, Brito is 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA (72 ERA+), 5.35 FIP, and 19 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.
Brito will face the fourth-worst qualified pitcher in the league by FIP, Kyle Muller. The 25-year-old lefty has the lowest strikeout rate (12.8 percent) of any qualified pitcher in MLB, but unlike the two A’s starters who will go before him, he struggles to induce weak contact. He’ll throw his mid-90s four-seamer about half the time, turning to his slider in advantageous counts against lefties while relying on curveball and changeup against righties. In seven starts, Muller is 1-2 with a 6.62 ERA (63 ERA+), 5.72 FIP, and 21 strikeouts in 34 innings.