On Sunday, Yankees right-hander Clarke Schmidt held his own in a matchup no fan was looking forward to.
After all, none of Schmidt's first four starts lasted any longer than four innings. He was the weakest link in a rotation that, at times this year, has contained three weak links. He developed a cutter this offseason with the express purpose of elevating his game against left-handed hitters, a plan that backfired when left-handers found him easier than ever to hit.
Through five starts, they're still hitting .385 against him with an obscene 1.237 OPS. Last season? They hit a "paltry" .268 with a .797 OPS and three homers. A new pitch doesn't have to unlock a pitcher's arsenal immediately to be effective. It just has to not cause an implosion and regression during the most important stretch of that pitcher's career. Schmidt's cutter, sadly, was nothing but trouble.
That's why he abandoned it almost completely on Sunday, leading to a start against the punishing Blue Jays that showed what the right-hander can be at this point in his career.
He's not an ace, but he doesn't need to be. He can't provide seven innings of length, but he shouldn't have to. Through the first 5.2 innings of Sunday's start, until Vlad Guerrero Jr. finally took him deep (after an Anthony Volpe error) and Daulton Varsho followd (on a cutter, why?!), Schmidt was nearly perfect. Most days, when Kevin Gausman's not on the bump for the opponent, that should be good enough.
Yankees right-hander Clarke Schmidt moved cutter down to 10% vs Blue Jays
The cutter might've given Schmidt the initial edge in the No. 5 starter race (back when we thought we had healthy horses in the Nos. 2 and 3 spots), but now, it could also be his death knell when Carlos Rodón and Luis Severino are eventually ready to return.
Yes, Schmidt's career-high eight strikeouts came against a righty-heavy lineup Sunday (great thinking by Jays manager John Schneider, who also yanked Alek Manoah at 85 pitches and lost Saturday's game because of it). But, when given the opportunity, he often went with the sinker over the cutter, slicing down left-handed batter Daulton Varsho early with his older arsenal.
Later in the game, of course, when Varsho dingered, it came off the cutter. As you'd expect. Moment of weakness, already down after the Vladdy bomb, trying something new. It didn't work.
That's probably who Schmidt is, at this point in time. He can get you through the lineup twice, if everything's working (and if righties are overrepresented), but once he has to go to Plan C, he's probably not going to last much longer.
Sadly, Plan C is the cutter that was supposed to be Plan A. Hopefully, Schmidt can keep building on Sunday's outing by breaking himself down once again, going backwards to go forwards.