Clarke Schmidt’s stellar spring finale doles out big hopes for Yankees rotation

Clarke Schmidt in in action in the Yankees vs. Mets game on March 25, 2024, at Tampa.
Sara Molnick
Tuesday March 26, 2024

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The last day of the Yankees’ 2024 spring at Steinbrenner Field belonged to Clarke Schmidt. The right-handed pitcher took the mound for his final spring training start after the ceremony to reward Spencer Jones with the James P. Dawson Award.

Having previously won the Dawson Award himself in both 2020 and 2022 while climbing through the minor leagues, Clarke Schmidt is now firmly focused on securing a permanent spot in the Yankees’ major league pitching rotation. He has emerged as a vital piece in the lower half of the rotation, playing a key role in the team’s championship aspirations.

Clarke Schmidt delivered a dominant performance against the Mets on Monday, showcasing his talent with five scoreless innings. He struck out six batters while allowing only one hit and two walks, further solidifying his readiness for the upcoming season. This outing reduced his Grapefruit League ERA to a respectable 3.18, capping off his spring training with five total starts. He threw a total of 68 pitches in the game.

Clarke Schmidt is in action in the Yankees vs. Mets spring game in Tampa on March 25, 2024.

Clarke Schmidt signs off spring training on a high note, cites offseason work

Following his dominant five-inning performance against the Mets, Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt expressed satisfaction with his spring training showing. Health and consistency were his primary goals throughout camp, and Schmidt emphasized his success in staying healthy and completing each start.

“I think the number one thing coming in was obviously health and then getting through all the starts clean,” he told. “That was the number one goal.”

However, Clarke Schmidt wasn’t simply content with staying healthy. He dedicated his offseason to refining his pitching arsenal. While known for good control and a low walk rate, Clarke Schmidt focused on enhancing his command and precisely locating pitches. This targeted improvement, according to him, added a valuable weapon to his repertoire. Additionally, the pitcher expressed confidence in the strides he had made with his changeup.

“I made a lot of improvements on my sinker in the offseason and I made a lot of improvements on my command,” Clarke Schmidt said. “I’ve always thrown a lot of strikes and have not walked a lot of guys but really just being able to put the ball where I want to this year is like really ticking a level up. I would definitely say so and then I also improved the changeup and we feel like we’re in a really good spot with that too.”

On Monday, Clarke Schmidt’s diverse six-pitch mix was on display. He heavily utilized his cutter, throwing it 27 times out of his total 68 pitches. Interestingly, despite the Mets making solid contact with an average exit velocity exceeding 94.8 mph, the Yankees pitcher managed to induce eight whiffs on 27 swings, showcasing his ability to miss bats even when hitters made contact.

Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt is with teammate Nestor Cortes during a practice session at Yankee Stadium in 2022.
Clarke Schmidt

A particularly promising area of improvement was Clarke Schmidt’s success against left-handed hitters. This area had previously presented challenges, yet he shut down the Mets’ lefties on Monday. He held them hitless, striking out four, although he did issue a few walks and a hit-by-pitch. While acknowledging this was just one spring start, the pitcher saw it as a positive sign and evidence of progress in his overall game.

Yankees look to Clarke Schmidt for consistency

Yankees bench coach Brad Ausmus, who managed the team alongside Aaron Boone during the final two spring training games in Mexico City, came away highly impressed with Clarke Schmidt’s performance throughout the spring.

“I’d seen him pitch from the other side before, and he looked good,” Ausmus said. “But getting to see him from different angles, behind the mound and behind the plate, really gives you a sense of his entire arsenal. He’s got some impressive stuff.”

Last year, Clarke Schmidt established himself as a key component of the Yankees‘ rotation in his first full season as a starter. He compiled a 4.64 ERA over 33 appearances (32 starts), nearly doubling his career-high workload with 159 innings pitched. Aside from ace Gerrit Cole, Clarke Schmidt emerged as one of the team’s most dependable starters, consistently delivering outings that kept the Yankees in the game.

With Cole sidelined at the beginning of the season due to an elbow injury, and questions surrounding the health and consistency of Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodón, and Marcus Stroman, the Yankees are even more reliant on a strong showing from Clarke Schmidt this year. He is slated to take the mound for his first start of the regular season in Game 4 on Sunday against the Houston Astros, a crucial matchup against a familiar division rival.

Aaron Judge’s defense shines

Aaron Judge during the game between new york yankees vs. mets, on thursday, march 22, 2024

The New York Yankees are navigating their options at third base as DJ LeMahieu begins the season on the injured list with a bone bruise in his right foot. General Manager Brian Cashman announced the news on Monday.

While Oswaldo Cabrera is the current frontrunner to fill the void at third, the Yankees are exploring external upgrades. They are evaluating internal candidates leading up to Opening Day in Houston, but are also actively monitoring the waiver wire for potential veteran acquisitions, particularly players opting out of contracts elsewhere.

On the pitching front, right-hander Luke Weaver impressed in relief of Clarke Schmidt on Monday. He tossed two scoreless innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced to secure the win. Weaver finished his spring training campaign with a strong 3.38 ERA across 10 2/3 innings pitched. He is projected to assume a role similar to Michael King’s last season, acting as a versatile multi-inning reliever who can face hitters multiple times through the lineup.

Aaron Judge wrapped up his spring training with a 1-for-3 performance in Monday’s finale, including a single, a run scored, and two strikeouts. Overall, his spring stats reflect a focus on sharpening his skills beyond hitting for power. He ended with a .208 batting average and a .629 OPS, without hitting any home runs in his 10 games played. While his power numbers may not be what fans typically expect, his defensive contributions suggest he’s well-prepared for the regular season.

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