The final box score may not say much, but Justus Sheffield showed some encouraging signs in his third official Major League start.
The Mariners are still in the midst of their final bout with the Yankees this season, but Justus Sheffield‘s day is officially over. With a final line of five earned runs on six hits, five strikeouts, and no walks in 4.1 innings pitched against his former team, Sheffield has completed the best start of his very young career.
If anything, today is a big win for Sheffield just for the sole fact that he didn’t walk anyone. Command and control issues have burdened Sheffield at the Triple-A and Major League levels this year, leading to a high amount of free passes on his résumé. Sheffield still struggled to locate some, especially on the slider, but it was overall a much cleaner day than what we’ve seen from him in the past.
But the Yankees are just insanely good and the results wound up being as you would expect for a 23-year-old making his third career start against the hottest offense in baseball. Sheffield didn’t afford many opportunities to New York hitters this afternoon, but they capitalized on the few they got in a big way.
After Dee Gordon failed to complete a diving stop on a Gleyber Torres groundball that would have ended the first inning, Gary Sánchez sent a 3-2 slider to the moon. Gordon would make up for things with another diving stop in the second inning, this time making an insane throw from his knees to get Tyler Wade out at first and prevent another run from scoring.
From that point forward, Sheffield settled in and retired the next six batters he faced in order, including four straight punchouts of Sánchez, Brett Gardner, and Gio Urshela. But you can only hold the Yankees down for so long, and the party quickly turned sour in the fifth inning.
Sheffield tried to keep things in and on the hands of Mike Ford, but the former Mariners’ camp body turned on a fastball up in the zone that rainbowed itself over the right field wall. Wade followed that up with an opposite field double down the third base line that beat the shift, which abruptly ended Sheffield’s day. That hit would come back to bite Sheffield in the end and make his final line appear a little bit worse as Matt Wisler fell victim to the extraordinary power of Aaron Judge.
Given the circumstances, Sheffield’s outing today should be judged more on the improvements he showed in several key areas of struggle rather than the results on the scoreboard. The positives for today: Sheffield induced 11 swinging strikes on 92 pitches, stayed in and around the strike zone consistently, and didn’t walk anyone. He also utilized his changeup more, which is a good sign, but out of the 12 changeups he threw today, only one went for a strike.
Things aren’t going to get any easier for Sheffield; his next start is scheduled for Monday against the Chicago Cubs… in Wrigley Field. Oof. Welcome to Major League Baseball.