TAMPA, Fla. -- Having Mark Teixeira hobbling around on crutches arguably hurt the Yankees' late-season chances more than any other injury, but it would be a mistake to discount the significance of deleting Nathan Eovaldi from the starting rotation.
Eovaldi was not able to pitch after Sept. 5 due to right elbow inflammation, and the right-hander finally returned to game action Thursday, hurling two perfect innings in an 11-4 loss to the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
"I was just trying to locate the ball on both sides and was working on my slider today," Eovaldi said. "Both felt good."
Eovaldi paced the American League with an .824 winning percentage last year, finishing 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 27 starts, and he would have been available to pitch out of the bullpen had the Yankees made it past the Astros in the American League Wild Card Game.
Instead, he allowed his arm some extra time to rest, and he hopes to continue seeing benefits after Thursday's 22-pitch outing.
"Outstanding," said Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson. "Obviously, the fastball velocity was there. He was able to locate his fastball, slider was crisp, he threw a couple of splits. I thought he really pitched well and was getting after it."
Eovaldi was slowed by mild groin tightness early in camp, and he was the final member of the starting rotation to appear in a spring game. Eovaldi's fastball was clocked as high as 99 mph vs. Toronto.
"I thought he was really good; throwing hard right out of the chute," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "All the stuff was there, the things he's been working on, the breaking ball was really good. It was crisp, and it was good to see him come out like that."
After developing his splitter into a reliable part of his repertoire -- a pitch he didn't even pick up until late in 2014, while still with the Marlins -- Eovaldi said that he hopes to improve his slider this spring.
"The split was a huge part of the deal for me last year, and my slider I didn't feel like was great toward the end of the year," Eovaldi said. "I wanted to go in the offseason and work on my slider a little bit more, so that way I don't have to rely on the split the entire time."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.