Yankees' Clarke Schmidt's new pitch could give him edge in No. 5 starter race

New York Yankees Spring Training
New York Yankees Spring Training / New York Yankees/GettyImages

In the wake of Frankie Montas' shoulder surgery, the Yankees' starting pitching depth will be tested. Domingo Germán, nothing more than a trustworthy depth option, and Clarke Schmidt, who excelled at times in short relief last year, will now be more essential to the operation.

Additionally, the Yankees will have to cross their fingers that the rest of the rotation -- featuring recent injury risks in Luis Severino, Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes Jr. -- stays static, a tenuous proposition.

That means there's an outside shot that Germán and Schmidt aren't competing much at all, and eventually end up both being leaned on heavily to get the Yankees through the regular season. That'll be much easier to sell to the fan base if Schmidt continues to pitch the way he did in his spring training debut Sunday in Tampa, which looked a lot like a gray tarp being yanked off a new Ferrari.

Schmidt said as much himself, revealing in the wake of his two perfect innings (with five whiffs) that he'd been tinkering with a new cutter. The right-hander initially introduced it into his arsenal to slice up lefties, but has seen benefits against batters from both sides of the plate.

And, yes, he compared the pitch to a new car. Not us. Schmidt did that.

Yankees Spring Training Highlights: RHP Clarke Schmidt took a new pitch out of the garage Sunday vs Braves

On Sunday, Schmidt uncorked 11 cutters, and the pitch already feels extremely natural:

"I’ve noticed a lot of hitters are swinging under it because they’re expecting some sink, and it stays up with the cut. It’s been such a high strike-percentage pitch for me early on. It was almost like I started throwing it and I felt like it’s been my best pitch for years."

Clarke Schmidt

The visuals speak for themselves, too. Schmidt installed a mechanism to help him provide extra length and make sure he could dominate against left-handers, and may have unlocked something along the way that could help this bulldog get to an additional gear.

Last season, Schmidt emerged as a viable short relief option, posting 0.8 WAR with a 3.12 ERA and 56 Ks in 57.2 innings, while putting up dazzling highlights on occasion.

However, when push came to shove, Schmidt struggled in crucial spots in October, losing Game 3 of the ALDS in Cleveland in an unexpected save opportunity, and faltering in an inning of work against the Astros, too.

Considering how easily the bad taste of a poor postseason can linger -- especially for this fan base -- it's comforting that Schmidt has revamped and revitalized his arsenal entering an all-important season, even if he already appeared to be a stud during 2022's regular season.

A lot can change from outing to outing, but Schmidt's tenacity has always been admired. If he's got a secret weapon to go with it now, watch out.