Opinion

Lance Lynn’s arrival and Sonny Gray’s recurrent woes are forcing the Yankees’ hand

 

When the Yankees added more pitching depth by acquiring Lance Lynn in a trade with the Minnesota Twins earlier in the week, manager Aaron Boone viewed the veteran right-hander as more of a long-man out of the bullpen, rather than a frequent rotation option.

Was Boone’s assessment and plan even-handed?  Of course it was. 

But, hasn’t it already become obsolete?

The answer should be yes, based on Sonny Gray’s latest blunders which happened to occur on a sunny and gray Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx.

While it appeared that Gray was turning a corner after three consecutive quality outings, the 28-year-old righty was shellacked in the Yankees’ 7-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, a lowly ballclub that sits 40-plus games under the .500 mark and 40-plus games back of first place in the AL East standings.

Before a 39-minute rain delay in the third inning further dampened the mood, Lynn was called upon for mop-up duty, as Gray (8-8, 5.56 ERA) allowed seven runs on eight hits and two walks across a measly 2.2 innings of work.  To the Yankees’ delight — and there really wasn’t much to smile about — Lynn made a positive first impression, pitching 4.1 shutout innings in his pinstripe debut.  In 71 pitches, the 31-year-old gave up five hits, struck out five, and walked none.

“When they’ve told me to go pitch, I go pitch.  I just try not to think about anything except getting whatever hitter in the box out,” Lynn told reporters.  “If I do that, I’ll be fine.  I know what I’m capable of and what I’ve done in the past.  From here on, when my name’s called, I’m going to go pitch, wherever that may be.”

As a whole, the Yankees’ performance was dreadful.  Their defense was sloppy.  Their hitting with runners in scoring position was nearly fruitless.  They didn’t wake up until there were two outs in the ninth inning, and by then, it was far too late for them to ignite a miraculous comeback and erase a discouraging deficit.  Two home runs and four RBI from Gleyber Torres just couldn’t save them.

Instead, the Yankees are now faced with a grueling decision to make on Gray, who has failed to get through four innings in six of his 21 starts this season.  They can no longer hope or cross their fingers that Gray will find some secret sauce.  They can no longer tolerate or stomach poor outings like this in the midst of playing catch-up with the Boston Red Sox, which look like clear-cut division favorites. 

The time has come for Gray and Lynn to indefinitely swap roles.  And it appears this proposal hasn’t been shut down by the Yankees just yet.

“That’s something that we’ll talk about now in the hours ahead, days ahead about what our plans will be going forward,” Boone told the YES Network after the game.  “Those are things we’ll talk about.”

A vague response?  Sure.  But the words here do matter, as Boone has been one of Gray’s advocates, through the thick and thin.  The vague response suggests Boone’s trust in Gray is waning.  Perhaps he’s bogged down by a reluctance to hand Gray the ball once again.  Either way, Boone can’t afford to make more mistakes with Gray.  He has to be held accountable for losses like this, too.

Lynn hasn’t pitched to the career numbers found on his bubblegum card this year (7-8, 5.10 ERA in 20 starts), but he does have the big league resume and experience to succeed in a market like New York.  In six seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Lynn went 72-47 with a 3.38 ERA in 183 games.  In 2017, his first year back from Tommy John Surgery, he won 11 games and owned a 3.43 ERA. 

So, Lynn has the tools.  He has the stuff.  And the Yankees wouldn’t have traded for him if they didn’t believe he can make an impact as a starter-reliever hybrid.

With a crucial four-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park set to begin on Thursday, there’s pressure on Boone and the Yankees’ front office to make a necessary change.  After all, at this point, what do they really have to lose in replacing Gray with Lynn?

 

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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