Chase Whitley has had a tremendous start to the season in replacing CC Sabathia. Credit: Getty Images
When they were together on the pitching staff of Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre in the last two years, Chase Whitley and Matt Daley would engage in good-natured kidding about their respective colleges.
Daley would jokingly say Whitley’s alma mater of Troy State was almost a SEC school. Whitley would joke that Daley’s alma mater of Bucknell was almost an Ivy League school.
Whitley will make his seventh start Wednesday against Toronto and to hear him say it, what Daley told him about life in the major leagues was critically important. Whitley even wrote down every pointer Daley would give him in a notebook during his Triple-A days.
“Matt Daley is a guy that I’ve trusted for the past few years,” Whitley said. “He’s been a mentor for me pitching-wise the last couple of years. Whatever he says usually I’m right there with a notepad because he’s intelligent — not just in baseball. He was telling me that and whatever he says I trust.”
Among the things he and others have told Whitley has been to attack the strike zone and get ahead. He takes a streak of 114 hitters without a walk into Wednesday.
“He’s been extremely important,” manager Joe Girardi said of Whitley. “I think he’s been successful because of his ability to mix pitches and the location that he had on all of his pitches — not get behind, being aggressive and not throwing a lot of pitches per inning has helped him out. You got to remember that this is a guy that’s never thrown more than 95 innings in a season because he’s been a reliever most of the time. But he’s kept his pitch count down, he’s been aggressive and he uses his stuff well.”
Whitley calls everything that’s happened in his first month a “miraculous blessing” and the experience of being in the majors “unbelievable.” All of this happened because CC Sabathia injured his knee. Whitley was scratched from a start and a few days later was making his major league debut against the Mets.
Whitley allowed two hits in 4 2/3 scoreless innings at Citi Field, throwing 43 of 74 pitches for strikes and first pitch strikes to 12 of 18 hitters. It was enough of a positive result to give him the mental confidence to compete at this level.
“I think to compete that first outing [was important],” Whitley said. “Everyone says whenever you get called up, every guy that’s been here before says it’s the same game, the same game, don’t let it get too fast and to be able to do that the first outing. I think that allowed me to keep moving forward.”
Eventually Sabathia will return but when that happens, it doesn’t appear Whitley will be departing the rotation.
Girardi remembers Gwynn
Joe Girardi first played against Tony Gwynn on July 5, 1989 at Wrigley Field. He was catching Scott Sanderson when Gwynn came up with two outs in the first inning.
Like many other catchers, he did his best to figure out what to throw to Gwynn. Like many others at-bats, Gwynn got a single.
That was among the things Girardi recalled about Gwynn, who died Monday at the age of 54 from oral cancer.
“When I think of Tony Gwynn I think of it from a catcher’s perspective how difficult he was to get out,” Girardi said before Tuesday’s game. “They have zones where guys hit the ball, breaking pitches they hit and there were no cold zones. The joke used to be throw it right down the middle because it’s the only pitch he doesn’t know what to do with because if you threw it outside he hit it to left, if you threw it inside, he hit to right and then he just sprayed the ball all over the place.
“He ran the bases extremely well. He played a great right field but he was a gentlemen too. He always had a smile on his face when he played the game and a real student of the game. He was a guy that I think everyone tried to learn from in a sense because he was such a great player and you wanted to know his ideas, his thoughts on hitting and how to play the game. It’s sad that we lost him because I think he had a lot to offer whether it was to college kids or to players who were in professional baseball, he had a lot to offer.
Gwynn played most of his career before interleague play so the only time Yankee fans saw him person were in the 1998 World Series. Even though the Yankees swept the series, Gwynn was a tough out as he was 8-for-16 with an upper deck home run in Game 1.
“Just a dangerous hitter and guy that really knew how to manipulate the bat,” Girardi said. “So you worried about the short right-field porch and what he could do.”