MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Season starting to come together for Yankees

May turnaround sparked by Sabathia renaissance, Chapman return

Season starting to come together for Yankees

NEW YORK -- On May 4, CC Sabathia pitched six scoreless innings of six-hit ball in a 7-0 win over the Orioles at Baltimore. Five days later, Aroldis Chapman returned from a 30-game domestic abuse suspension.

The little-noted start by Sabathia began a run for the remainder of the rotation that has dovetailed very nicely with the back-of-the-bullpen hydra now known as Done BMC.

The Yankees had won six in a row before they were derailed by the Blue Jays, 8-4, at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. But they are still 14-7 during their latest run, turning an 8-13 month of April into a 22-23 record and a much more promising month of May.

The night before Sabathia pitched at Camden Yards, the Yanks fell to 8-16, matching their worst start since 1984. But the good news for that team was it came back to win 87 games, not good enough to make the playoffs in the pre-Wild Card era, but certainly respectable.

Last year's Yankees won 87 and captured the first of the two American League Wild Card berths. They had the home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card Game, but they lost to the Astros. Here we go again.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," manager Joe Girardi said about the way the season suddenly turned around. "I think it's our starting pitching. I think Chapman has added to our bullpen. I think we're swinging the bats better. When you put those three things together, they easily lead to wins."

Personnel issues have also mattered. Luis Severino went on the disabled list on May 14 because of a right triceps strain. He was 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA and highly ineffectual in his first seven starts. Ivan Nova was elevated from a relief role and essentially has replaced Severino.

Nova made his fourth start on Wednesday night and again pitched well enough to win, leaving with two out in the seventh inning after hitting Edwin Encarnacion in the foot with a pitch.

When reliever Chasen Shreve allowed a two-run homer to Michael Saunders, Nova lost his chance at a quality start. It would have been New York's seventh in a row.

"I thought he gave us a pretty good game and pitched better than his line was," Girardi said about Nova, who allowed four runs on seven hits.

Alex Rodriguez strained his right hamstring trying to leg out an infield grounder in a loss to the Orioles on May 3. He was placed on the disabled list the next day, the night Sabathia pitched his best game in three years, but he strained a groin and also had to be placed on the DL. Sabathia was out two weeks, but he returned this past Friday night in Oakland to twirl another superlative game.

A-Rod's absence gave Girardi a lot more flexibility. He has pretty much moved Carlos Beltran from right field to designated hitter to put a lot less wear and tear on the 39-year-old veteran's legs. Beltran responded this month by hitting .284 with six homers and 20 RBIs and passing the 400-homer mark.

Aaron Hicks or Dustin Ackley give the Yanks much better defense in right field at this point than Beltran.

Rodriguez was hitting .194 when he went out, although he had blasted three of his five homers this season in the five games before the injury. He's sitting on 692, eight away from becoming the fourth player in history to reach 700.

A-Rod will be reactivated in time for Thursday's finale of the three-game series against Toronto. The only place Girardi can use him is at DH, causing the same kind of logjam with Beltran that existed prior to the injury.

Rodriguez just finished a short rehab stint with the Double-A Trenton Thunder. He hit a two-run homer in the game at Trenton, N.J., on Wednesday night. That came after a 2-for-4 evening with one RBI on Tuesday night.

"He looked pretty good," Girardi said. "I plan on activating him and he will play tomorrow."

No question, the big difference has been the addition of Chapman as the closer behind Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. Not only does Chapman have six saves, but that group is 5-0 in the five games all three have pitched. More importantly, Done BMC has shortened the game for each of the starters.

During the just-concluded six-game streak, the Yankees had run off six quality starts and logged a Major League-low 1.67 ERA among starters. The 28 hits allowed by the rotation were the least in a six-game span for the Yanks since 2002.

The combination thus far has been lethal.

"It's got to be a big part of it," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "They get late in the game with a lead and it's probably over. It's not going to happen every night. But most of the time, they're going to shut it down. They can view things differently now. They can view what they want out of their starters differently."

It didn't all go according to plan on Wednesday night, but that's not the point. In the past three weeks, the Yankees have turned their season around. That's the point.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.