Brandon McCarthy has been more than an upgrade, right-hander is pitching like Yankees ace
Surely, they thought, he was better than the man he was traded for and replaced, Vidal Nuno, although numbers said not by much; McCarthy was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA and 1.377 WHIP in 18 starts for a moribund Diamondbacks team, a slightly more impressive line in spots than the 2-5, 5.42 line Nuno had put up in 17 appearances (14 starts) in the Bronx.
But, they also wondered, could McCarthy really be more than a stopgap for a team that seemingly needed any fresh body it could get in a decimated rotation?
So far, the answer to that is a resounding yes.
"Overall, I'd say (the first month in New York has) been good. There have been some games where I haven't gone deep - which is a little frustrating, so I'd like to do a better job there - but overall I feel I've done a decent job of going as far as I can and not backing down in situations where earlier in the year I might have," McCarthy said following Monday's 2-1 win over Detroit.
Good is, perhaps, an understatement. While Nuno has been solid in Arizona, pitching to a 3.07 ERA in his first five starts and spinning quality outings in three of those, McCarthy has downright pitched like an ace in New York for a team that desperately needed one.
Through his first five starts in pinstripes, McCarthy is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA, and he has improved his peripheral numbers to a point where his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) measure is down to 2.74, over a point lower than the 3.82 he posted in Arizona.
"He's been huge for our rotation, and every start has been a good one; he's done a good job of giving us distance most of the time, and he's pitched about as well as you could," manager Joe Girardi said of McCarthy after Monday's win over Detroit.
A noted sinker-baller, McCarthy has credited being able to use his cutter more as part of the impetus for his hot start, but on Monday, both he and Girardi had some props for his breaking pitches as well.
"He's used his sinker extremely well, but I thought he used his curveball really well tonight," Girardi said. "I thought he got some really big outs with it and did a good job."
Added the right-hander: "Any time I can get the curveball going is important; if I'm able to change speeds, throw strikes with it and get it out of the zone for swings and misses or bad contact, it gives my fastball some breathing room."
Whatever part of his repertoire he's using, so far, it has worked. McCarthy has been a horse, pitching into the sixth inning in every start and throwing at least 100 pitches in every outing but one, that exception being a 99-pitch effort against Cincinnati where he was removed after six with a 7-1 lead.
Within that, he won his first three decisions after spinning quality starts, and after a four-run, six-inning no-decision in Texas, he fell one out shy of his fourth quality start but did pick up his fourth win with a gutty one-run performance over 5 2/3-innings Monday.
Gutty was a word especially used to describe the second inning, one where he threw 32 pitches and loaded the bases with one out before fanning Alex Avila and Eugenio Suarez in succession to keep the game scoreless.
"That was an important inning for us; with the bullpen being short coming off a long series and David (Phelps) going down yesterday, you have to be able to get through it and get deep in a game," McCarthy said. "I was just trying to grind through it and make pitches; something I've worked on here is not backing down in a situation like that, not throwing a hittable pitch and doing something that can put us in a hole."
Overall, McCarthy needed 116 pitches for those 5 2/3 innings - seven more than his previous season high - but he indeed gutted through, finally yielding to Matt Thornton after Don Kelly singled to put two on with two out in a one-run game.
"I didn't feel like I was getting tired, I just knew this was a hell of a lot of pitches," he said. "That's one of my regrets from the day is not being able to get us deeper, but getting through and not putting us in a deficit when guys are weary was big."
It was an especially huge performance for the Yankees seeing as it was a came against reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the first of three straight previous Cy Young winners the Yankees were set to face in Detroit's rotation.
Even if McCarthy didn't necessarily think that way.
"That wasn't something I thought about too much. I know this is a big series for us and I know what they're throwing at us later in the series, so I kind of took that as a challenge for me," he said Monday, "but you just have to do your part. (Detroit's lineup) just keeps coming and coming and they can hurt you at any point, so you just have to stay focused as long as you can."
One month ago, Brandon McCarthy was thought of perhaps as just a spare part, a Band-Aid applied to help the Yankees stem the tide on one of the worst rashes of rotation injuries Major League Baseball has ever seen.
"This is a chance to step up and make a mark, and I know it's a challenge for me," he said. "We're digging in and trying to get going here, and it's on me to do my part now and kick in."
So far, so good.