By George A. King III
Nathan Eovaldi allowed just two hits over four innings against the Phillies on Sunday.
TAMPA — Watching Nathan Eovaldi dominate the Phillies on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field, a question couldn’t be ignored: How does a pitcher with his type of electric stuff take a 15-35 career record into his first Yankees season?
Yes, it was spring training against a split squad of Phillies who had maybe two regulars in the lineup. Yet his fastball danced on the black of the plate at 95 to 98 mph and a hard slider was clocked at 89.
With health questions attached to Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, Eovaldi didn’t bring that issue with him from the Marlins when the Yankees figured his age (25) and durability were worth sacrificing Martin Prado.
Still, 15-35 in parts of four pitcher-friendly NL seasons certainly drew red flags concerning the right-hander’s ability to win in the AL East.
That remains a question, but Sunday’s electrifying outing can’t be ignored.
“Today, overall, everything felt pretty good,’’ Eovaldi said following a four-inning stint in a 3-2 Yankees win. “Today, I threw all four pitches, which is a good sign.’’
It looked better. The two hits Eovaldi gave up were soft singles to center. Thanks to inducing Andres Blanco to hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 in the third and catcher Brian McCann throwing out Cody Asche attempting to swipe second in the fourth, Eovaldi faced the minimum 12 batters. Of his 45 pitches, 38 were strikes.
“That’s pretty good, especially for me,’’ Eovaldi said.
Watching tape of Eovaldi before camp opened, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was encouraged by his arm and he has continued to work with Eovaldi on a split-fingered fastball he started to tinker with last year when he gave up an alarming 223 hits in 199 ²/₃ innings.
“I take pride in trying to get better, you don’t want to stay the same,’’ said Eovaldi, whose 6-14 ledger of a year ago was somewhat a product of getting 2.70 runs per start. That was the lowest of MLB pitchers with at least 20 starts (he made 33). “Being able to elevate the ball was something I struggled with last year. I am able to keep it up in the zone and also able to keep it down and the off-speed pitches are there, too.’’
According to McCann, who batted against Eovaldi with the Braves, he never thought about Eovaldi’s less-than-acceptable record.
“Wins and losses are you know, but I have faced him before and he is a very uncomfortable at-bat,’’ said McCann, who is 1-for-8 with three strikeouts and two walks against Eovaldi. “The ball gets on you and you have to cheat to hit his fastball. That makes his off-speed that much better. You throw that hard and create that angle, you have to cheat on the fastball.’’
According to McCann, Eovaldi got the double play and a strikeout on the splitter.
Joe Girardi recalled seeing Eovaldi in Panama last spring training and being impressed. Sunday, the manager remained that way.
“Really, really good. Twelve outs in 45 pitches, the fastball was great, the curveball was really good, the split was good,’’ Girardi said. “You can’t really expect much more.’’