"They tell you you're going back to the rotation and they give you the confidence to do it, then you don't do a good job …" De La Rosa said. "But that made me feel much better -- the double play. That's why I pitched better."
De La Rosa (3-4) understood the decision to remove him from the starting rotation three weeks ago was to save his season, not to punish him for a slow start. In the process, he lost an old friend (the hesitation during his windup) but gained a new one (bullpen coach Darren Holmes, who talked him through adjustments).
On Tuesday, De La Rosa looked like he is on the way to regaining his form. He was not quite at the form that has helped him to the club career lead in wins (81) and home wins (51). He needed 90 pitches (51 strikes) for five innings, during which he struck out two and gave up three hits and two walks -- one to Yankees starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.
"To be honest, I got tired a little bit," De La Rosa said. "It had been a long time since I'd thrown that many pitches. [The Yankees] made me work."
But De La Rosa's fastball set up the split-finger and breaking pitches the way he did during three relief outings (one run, nine strikeouts, three hits in eight innings). With the new motion helping his arm and body stay in sync, gone was the tentativeness that marked his struggles in his first six starts (1-4, 11.41 ERA).
The first inning tested De La Rosa's commitment to the changes.
Jacoby Ellsbury singled hard to center. Brett Gardner singled when his bunt up the first-base line was to a spot where it was impossible for De La Rosa to make a proper throw to first.
A pitcher who doesn't believe can easily revert to old, bad habits. That happened before the season, to some degree.
Holmes saw De La Rosa display a smooth motion during pre-Spring Training throwing sessions. But when De La Rosa's fastball wasn't sharp, he reverted to the pause -- which, in the past, has been effective.
But after De La Rosa's season immediately went south, Holmes -- with pitching coach Steve Foster's blessing -- talked to De La Rosa about what he liked in February. It turned out De La Rosa, 35, was ready for that type of feedback.
"Down in the bullpen, we talked almost every night, and I got to know him as a person, not just as a pitcher," Holmes said. "He told me some feelings about wanting to ask things. Now that's over. Like I told 'De La,' our job is to serve your needs. That's why they hired us.
"I've probably talked to him more in three weeks than I'd talked to him in a year and a month. He's a tremendous person, cares about people and wants to win for the team."