Nathan Eovaldi made his first start in pinstripes Friday against the rival Red Sox. In past years the role of fourth starter was not one that could make or break a Yankee season, but given the fragility of the three starters that precede him, Eovaldi’s success is crucial.
In his opening day start Masahiro Tanaka did little to ease the concerns about his elbow, giving up five runs in only four innings. Michael Pineda looked great in his start, but needs to prove that can stay healthy and take the mound every fifth day. CC Sabathia gave up five runs against Toronto and has shown little evidence over the past two plus seasons that he can win consistently with diminished velocity.
Given the questions that surround the top three of the rotation, it is not a stretch to say that Eovaldi is the pitcher most likely to give the Yankees 30 plus starts and 200 innings. The quality of those 200 innings could go a long way to determining whether the Bombers contend for a playoff spot. Is Nathan Eovaldi up to the task? If one believes in spring training statistics, the answer is a resounding yes. He pitched to a 0.66 ERA with 14 strikeouts over 13.2 Grapefruit League innings. These numbers are particularly encouraging because at 25 years old he should be starting to enter his prime as a pitcher. Eovaldi has been working diligently with pitching coach Larry Rothschild to develop his splitter as a put away pitch to compliment a 97 MPH fastball.
His start against the Red Sox was mostly overlooked due to the chaos that ensued, but he didn't have a great debut. Eovaldi gave up eight hits and three runs and lasted just 5.1 innings. Although the heat was there (his fastball velocity averaged 96.8 mph), Eovaldi only managed to notch one strikeout. His next test will come against the Orioles next week. The Yankees believe the big right hander has the talent and mental makeup to succeed, he just has to show it.