Cessa rises to occasion to win starting debut

Cessa rises to occasion to win starting debut

ANAHEIM -- A pitcher's first career start can a nervous experience, but the time spent waiting for that first pitch as a Major League starter can be even worse.

Luis Cessa waited and waited, first for the beginning of Saturday night's 5-1 Yankees win to come after a 10-minute delay, then for the Yankees' offense to finish up a three-run, seven-batter opening inning.

The nerves were with him the whole time, but as he took the mound for his first start with the Yankees and threw that first pitch to Kole Calhoun, it all faded away. Cessa would go on to throw six-plus scoreless innings and insert his name into the list of young Yankees to know.

"I felt nervous before the game. After the first pitch, I felt normal again," Cessa said. "Just tried to be focused, every pitch. We're working on throwing inside, coming off the fastball, and the breaking ball was good tonight, so I had a pretty good day."

Not helping Cessa was Garret Anderson's Angels Hall of Fame induction ceremony that caused the game's start time to go from a scheduled 6:35 to 6:45.

"You always worry about how kids are going to react. Then the game starts 10 minutes later than it's supposed to," manager Joe Girardi said. "Believe me, I completely understand that. It's happened a number of times in our ballpark. You wonder how he's going to react to that, waiting and waiting and probably can't wait to get out there. I thought he handled everything really well."

Cessa entered the game with a 5.30 ERA in 18 2/3 innings spent in the bullpen this season, but as a starter he showed a fully functional arsenal from the first pitch. His nerves were also slightly calmed by the three-run cushion his team had staked him to before even throwing a pitch.

The rookie retired the side in order in the first inning, striking out a hitter that makes plenty of pitchers nervous in Mike Trout.  

"There were a lot of things," Girardi said. "I thought he used his fastball extremely well on both sides of the plate. I thought he pitched inside effectively. I thought his slider was good. I thought he threw some curveballs early in the counts where he was able to show them two different breaking balls."

By the time Cessa was removed in the seventh, he had allowed just three hits and no runs, with 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, fourth and fifth. Two singles in the third put a runner in scoring position and created some potential danger with Trout up to bat, but Cessa got him again, inducing a groundout to short.

It's just one start, but the Yankees will take any production they can get from a young player as they retool for the future. The 24-year-old Cessa certainly qualifies, thanks to his excellent debut as a starter.

"It's important to get everyone clicking on all cylinders, but young guys like that, he's got a lot of potential," outfielder Brett Gardner said. "We've seen it in Spring Training and he's been a little inconsistent, I know he's been up and down a lot and pitched out of the bullpen some. Probably not how everybody would have drawn it up, but now he's got an opportunity to stick in the rotation. I think he's going to do well with it."

Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.