BOSTON — The Yankees traded for Sonny Gray a year ago and J.A. Happ last week, both times in hopes of improving their rotation. On Thursday, before their most important series of the season, Gray found himself bumped to the bullpen and Happ landed on the disabled list.
In their places likely will be Luis Cessa on Saturday against the Red Sox and Lance Lynn on Monday versus the White Sox.
While the Yankees hope Happ will miss just one start after going on the 10-day DL with hand, foot and mouth disease, for Gray, it’s the low point of what has been a hugely disappointing tenure with the Yankees.
The final straw came Wednesday against the horrid Orioles, as Gray gave up seven runs in 2 ²/₃ innings, the third time in his last six outings the right-hander has failed to survive even three innings.
“We just talked about it a lot after the game [Wednesday],” Aaron Boone said Thursday before the Yankees played the Red Sox at Fenway Park. “We came away with that decision and cemented it [Wednesday] night that that was the way we wanted to go. We think it’s the best thing for everyone involved right now.’’
Gray, who said on Wednesday he hoped to remain in the rotation but would understand any move the Yankees made, made it clear he was willing to help in relief and would be available Saturday.
But he also expects to start again.
“I don’t think my days as a starting pitcher in this league are over,’’ Gray said. “I think at this moment and right now, the thought is to have me go to the bullpen and see what happens. Whether it’s this year, next year or down the road, I truly picture myself as a starter in this league. It’s all about winning right now this season and doing my part.”
Gray arrived shortly before last year’s non-waiver trade deadline from Oakland and has been disappointing from the beginning.
His continued inability to pitch deep into games, as well as the acquisition of Lynn this week from Minnesota, were the determining factors in the switch, according to Boone.
But Boone hasn’t given up on Gray, who pitched well in his three previous outings prior to Wednesday.
“He’s been a very good starting pitcher, he’s 28 years old and the stuff we see really each outing would suggest he’s more than capable,’’ Boone said. “He’s had a hard time being consistent with that and commanding his fastball at a level that makes you a really good starter in this league. We’re not talking to a 34-year-old that’s been hurt and broken down. This is a guy where the ball comes out [well]. Even in the starts he’s struggled, he’s had his moments.”
Not having Happ for at least a start stings, as well — especially since the left-hander’s success against the Red Sox is among the key reasons the Yankees picked him up from Toronto.
But his diagnosis of hand, foot and mouth disease turned out not to be as mild as the Yankees first believed, according to Boone.
“In the last couple days, there was an increase with some of the symptoms,’’ the manager said.
Boone added Happ’s blistering hadn’t subsided, which indicated the virus was still in his system.
Noah Syndergaard of the Mets missed just one start with the same condition and the Yankees believe that will be the case with Happ.
If Cessa is needed in relief before Saturday, Boone said they would consider other “internal options,’’ but there is no clear choice to make a start if Cessa is unavailable.
More worrisome, though, is Gray’s status.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild tried to paint a positive light on the switch.
“It could be a good thing,” Rothschild said. “He is a starting pitcher. He’s proven that. He just has to be more consistent. Maybe not having to prepare for four or five days and just going out and throwing the ball will get him back to where we know he can be and this can be a minor bump in the road.”
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