Yankees have a reason to pick Luis Gil over Will Warren for fifth rotation slot

Yankees pick Luis Gil as their fifth starter on March 24, 2024.

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New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced on Sunday that Luis Gil would be joining the team’s starting rotation as the fifth starter, filling the void left by injured ace Gerrit Cole. This surprise development caps off a remarkable spring training for the young pitcher.

Coming into camp, Gil wasn’t necessarily the top candidate for the fifth starter role. However, with Cole sidelined with an elbow injury, the door opened for opportunity. Gil seized the moment, consistently delivering strong performances throughout spring training. His impressive displays not only exceeded expectations but ultimately solidified his position in the rotation.

“He’s thrown the ball well since the beginning of camp,” Boone said before the Yankees’ matchup against Diablos Rojos del Mexico. “He’s earned this opportunity.”

While Will Warren, a 24-year-old right-hander, initially challenged for the spot, his lack of inclusion on the 40-man roster wasn’t a deciding factor according to Boone. Warren left a positive impression during his first major league camp and is expected to contribute this season, although Gil gets the initial nod.

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Gil’s success is even more remarkable considering he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2022. His return to the mound has been nothing short of spectacular. Boasting a stellar 2.87 ERA with 23 strikeouts across 15 ²/₃ innings pitched this spring, he’s turned heads across the organization and beyond.

Gil’s return has not only showcased his resilience but also an improvement in his pitching arsenal. His already impressive fastball, which can touch triple digits, now features even greater velocity. Additionally, he has refined his changeup, making it a reliable weapon alongside his slider.

The Yankees, facing an unexpected challenge with Cole’s injury, found an answer in the rise of Luis Gil. His spring training dominance has earned him a starting role, giving the team a much-needed boost heading into the regular season.

Luis Gil’s journey to becoming a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees is a testament to his talent and perseverance. While initially sent down to minor league camp in early March, fate intervened when Gerrit Cole’s elbow injury opened a door for Gil’s return.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As Cole received an MRI for his elbow concern, Gil was dazzling on the mound. His dominant performance against the Philadelphia Phillies’ A-lineup, featuring eight strikeouts over 3 ²/₃ scoreless innings, propelled him back into the starting pitcher conversation.

Boone observed that Gil’s recent showing had thrust him back into immediate contention, remarking that the pitcher seemed more prepared and advanced than initially expected. Boone also acknowledged Gil’s impressive performance leading up to that game. He expressed enthusiasm about Gil’s health status and admitted to being pleasantly surprised by his current level of development. Boone emphasized Gil’s progress with secondary pitches, his consistent fastball, and his display of focus and composure. He concluded by affirming that Gil had earned the recognition he was receiving.

Gil’s stellar spring wins Yankees’ trust

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With ace Gerrit Cole sidelined due to elbow inflammation, the New York Yankees faced a vacancy in their starting rotation. This sparked a competition between young pitching prospect Luis Gil and Will Warren.

While both pitchers had their supporters within the organization, Gil held a strategic advantage. He possessed prior major league experience and was already on the coveted 40-man roster. However, it was Gil’s dominant spring training performance that ultimately sealed the deal.

Returning from Tommy John surgery, Gil showcased remarkable control and effectiveness. He compiled a stellar 2.87 ERA with 23 strikeouts and only 6 walks across 15.2 innings pitched. Notably, his standout outing on March 11th against the Phillies’ strong lineup solidified his candidacy. During that game, he struck out a whopping 8 batters in just 3.2 innings.

Gil’s talent wasn’t lost on his future rotation mate, Marcus Stroman. Describing him as “dynamic” with a blazing fastball, Stroman lauded Gil’s impressive spring showing, particularly against tough competition. Stroman, who had even connected with Gil on social media years prior, expressed genuine excitement about Gil’s health and inclusion in the rotation, viewing it as a significant positive for the team.

While a high-velocity fastball has always been a part of Gil’s arsenal, his recent success can be attributed to the development of his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup.

Pitching coach Matt Blake shed light on Gil’s pitching repertoire, highlighting his highly effective four-seam fastball as the foundation of his attack. However, Blake was quick to point out Gil’s significant progress in utilizing his secondary pitches, particularly the changeup. This pitch has seen a major improvement, providing a valuable weapon alongside his slider. Blake emphasized Gil’s ability to effectively throw his slider for strikes, further solidifying his overall pitching arsenal.

Gil’s dedication to improvement, combined with his impressive spring training performance, has earned him the coveted fifth starter spot in the Yankees’ rotation. His well-rounded pitching repertoire and regained health make him a promising addition to the team’s starting staff.

Gil’s rebound after Tommy John Surgery

Yankees pitcher Luis Gil is seen in action against the Mets on March 22, 2024.
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Luis Gil’s journey to the Yankees‘ starting rotation is a testament to his dedication and focus on improvement.

Back on March 16th, Gil himself acknowledged a deliberate effort to refine his changeup. He recognized that during his initial stint in the majors, he primarily relied on just two pitches. This limited repertoire underscored the importance of developing a reliable third offering. Gil expressed satisfaction with the progress made on his changeup, boosting his confidence in utilizing it effectively in game situations.

This focus on development was built upon a promising major league debut in 2021. Across six starts and 29.1 innings pitched, Gil compiled a respectable 3.07 ERA while striking out 38 batters. He even etched his name in baseball history by becoming the first pitcher since 1893 to throw at least 4.2 scoreless innings in each of his first three appearances, surpassing the record set by Slow Joe Doyle in 1906. His career began with an impressive 18.2 scoreless inning streak.

However, this promising start was cut short by Tommy John surgery in May 2022. This limited him to just nine official games and only one major league appearance since the beginning of 2022.

While mindful of his injury history, the Yankees plan to manage Gil’s workload cautiously during the season. However, they haven’t established any strict limitations on his total innings pitched. This suggests a measured approach that prioritizes his health while allowing him to contribute meaningfully as a starter.

Yankees take a measured approach on Gil’s workload

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New York Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake outlined a cautious plan for managing Luis Gil’s workload this season. This strategy acknowledges the limited game experience Gil has accumulated over the past two years due to Tommy John surgery.

“We’re not setting any hard and fast limits,” Blake said, referring to a specific innings target for Gil. “We have to be realistic about his buildup.”

While reaching a lofty goal of 180 innings pitched isn’t necessarily expected, the Yankees aren’t completely ruling it out either. They prioritize a measured approach, focusing on short-term assessments. They’ll evaluate Gil’s performance “start by starting” and “month by month,” carefully monitoring his responses and adjusting his workload incrementally based on the data collected between outings.

This comprehensive approach extends beyond simply tracking innings pitched. The Yankees will meticulously analyze Gil’s pitch metrics – factors like velocity, spin rate, and movement – to gain a deeper understanding of his performance on the mound. They will also monitor his biomechanics, focusing on pitching mechanics and overall physical condition through strength and conditioning assessments.

“It’s both art and science,” Blake stated, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of evaluating a pitcher’s progress. While traditional statistics like innings pitched can provide a basic overview, objective metrics offer more nuanced insights into Gil’s development by revealing trends of improvement or regression.

Despite being slated as the fifth starter, Gil’s presence on the Opening Day roster isn’t guaranteed. Because his first start falls during a road series in Arizona beginning on April 1st, the Yankees have some roster flexibility. This allows them to consider utilizing his roster spot for an additional bullpen arm if needed. Alternatively, they could delay sending down a player with no remaining minor league options, like catcher Ben Rortvedt.

While filling a bullpen spot with Will Warren was a possibility, the Yankees view the 24-year-old as a starter for the long term. Therefore, he was reassigned to minor league camp on Sunday. However, Blake didn’t completely shut the door on a future bullpen role for Warren, leaving open the possibility of his contribution in relief during the season.

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