Chase Whitley was never supposed to be a key part of the Yankees’ rotation in 2014. He was not in the mix for a major league job during spring training. He was expected to spend the season transitioning from a reliever to a starter at Triple-A Scranton. Fate intervened in the form of injuries to Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, and all of a sudden, Whitley was stretching out his arm as the the number five starter in the Bronx. Even more surprisingly, he pitched well.
Whitley is a strike-thrower. He is consistently around the plate, and doesn’t walk people. He has averaged just one walk per start. He also keeps the ball in the ballpark. The home run he game up to David Ortiz on Sunday night was just the third one he had surrendered all year. He may not have overpowering stuff, or a true strikeout pitch, but he has been effective for the Bombers this season. He even started to work later into games and extend his pitch count.
However, in his last two starts, he has been shelled by divisional opponents, the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox. Against the Blue Jays, Whitley was tattooed for eleven hits and eight runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Then last night against Boston, Whitley lasted only four innings, surrendering five runs on eight hits. He has also issued more free passes (5) in his last two games, than in all his other starts combined. The rest of the American League may be starting to figure out the rookie from Alabama.
As far as the Yankees are concerned, they may feel like they are already playing with house money when it comes to Whitley. At a time when they literally had no starters left due to injury, they were able to plug in a player who was more project than prospect, into their rotation and received quality performances for six weeks. If that is the extent of the “Chase Whitley Project”, the Yankees can pat themselves on the back, and be grateful they got that much out of him.
But for the 25-year-old rookie, now is the time to make an adjustment and once again prove his doubters wrong. Whitley has proven that he can pitch at the major league level. He has tasted success. The league has adjusted to him and started to push back. Whitley needs to respond with his own adjustments, and fight to stay in the Yankees’ rotation. Sabathia will be back around the All-Star break, and the Yankees plan on adding another starter by the trading deadline and Pineda may be back in August. Whitley is going to face increased competition for his job. He needs to pitch well and he needs to start doing it now.