Yankees’ banged-up rotation getting lift from unlikely source

When Major League Baseball hands out hardware at the end of this 2018 season, Domingo German probably needn’t clear his calendar the way, say, Gleyber Torres, Luis Severino or Aaron Judge might.

Yet it’s the performance of Yankees like German that makes the team so darn viable a candidate to win the best hardware of all.

In the land of the inept, the competent man is king. The Yankees just might lead the industry in competence, and German presented himself as the latest exhibit Thursday night.

The rookie German, the Yankees’ sixth starter turned fourth starter, earned his first major league win by pitching his team to a 4-3 victory over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.

“To be able to win my first game in the big leagues means a lot,” German said through an interpreter. “Hopefully, I can relax a little more after getting the first one and keep at it.”

The right-hander struck out a career-high 10 over six innings while allowing three runs on five hits and two walks, and he has gradually lowered his ERA in each of his last four starts from 5.59 (after his 3 ²/₃-inning, six-run outing at Texas on May 22) to the current 5.23.

Again: Severino, Justin Verlander, Gerritt Cole and the other American League Cy Young Award candidates won’t break a sweat over German. Yet the Yankees, their starting-pitching depth an obvious question mark, can sweat less, too, because they have the 25-year-old German to keep them in games.

“It’s huge,” Aaron Boone said. “We’ve run out to a good record (44-20) here. The offense and our bullpen get talked about a lot, and I know they talk about us looking for starters and all that. But the reason we’ve been able to string wins together a lot of different times has been the starting rotation. … They’re a big reason why, and Domingo’s a big part of why we’re in a good position here.”

German kept the Yankees in this contest even after Matt Duffy deposited the game’s first pitch over the left-field wall for an instant 1-0 Rays lead, evoking memories of his start Saturday, when he gave up three runs to the Mets in the first inning at Citi Field (and followed with five shutout frames, striking out nine).

“Yeah, that’s something that doesn’t happen a lot,” German said of Duffy’s leadoff blast. “When it does happen, you have to put that away. I know we have a great team. We have guys that are going to battle all night long, and at any moment, we can take the lead again. For me, it’s just to try to hold the game, make some good pitches, don’t put your head down, keep your focus.”

That stick-to-it-iveness drew its reward when the Yankees, down 2-0, bunched together four runs in the fifth off Rays starter Blake Snell, the last three coming on the 13th homer by Torres, who is steadily surpassing the injured Shohei Ohtani to become the AL Rookie of the Year front-runner. After German surrendered a third run in the sixth, the Yankees’ indomitable bullpen upheld that slim edge without much difficulty.

As Boone volunteered, the Yankees’ trade-deadline goal remains turning German back into a long reliever or a starter for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. With that deadline more than a month away, however, and with Masahiro Tanaka sidelined due to injuries in both hamstrings and Jordan Montgomery out for the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, it’s paramount the Yankees don’t sacrifice one out of every five games with a subpar starting pitcher.

German has assured that won’t happen on his days, and on Friday, we’ll see if Jonathan Loaisiga can accomplish the same mission in his major league debut against the Rays’ Nathan Eovaldi who came with German to the Yankees from the Marlins in a December 2014 trade.

Don’t sell individual competence short. It can lead directly to team greatness.

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