Yankees Thoughts: Carlos Rodon Gets Royal Revenge

The Yankees used a spring training-esque lineup and a reliever with zero career ninth-inning saves to close out a game in Kansas City. It didn’t matter because Carlos Rodon was great again, and the Yankees beat the Royals 4-2.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. In Game 160 of the 2023 season, Carlos Rodon started for the Yankees against the Royals in Kansas City. He went into that game with a 5.74 ERA and .790 OPS against in 13 starts. He had missed about 60 percent of the first year of a six-year, $162 million deal, and the time he didn’t miss, he pitched horribly. In a season in which he was injured, bad and blew a kiss to heckling fans, nothing was worse than that start against the Royals.

Home run

Rodon faced eight batters and retired none. The three that were on base when he exited in the bottom of the first all came around to score. He turned his back on Matt Blake during a mound visit. His final line: 0 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HR. His ERA ballooned to 6.85 and his WHIP to 1.446. Rodon made roughly $800,000 for a performance that any fan from the bleachers could have rivaled and any position player could have bested.

2. On Monday, Rodon took the mound in Kansas City for the first time since the worst start of his career and pitched the way someone owed $162 million over six years should pitch. Five days after taking a perfect game into the sixth inning in a win over the Twins, Rodon took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Royals.

“I definitely knew this game was coming,” Rodon said of his start on Monday. “It was circled on the calendar, and I wanted to show up and give my team the best chance to win after coming out of here last year with what happened and not pitching well. I definitely remembered that.”

Every Yankees fan remembers it. It was as low a point in the lowest Yankees season in 30 years. The star free-agent signing unable to record an out against a 106-loss team.

3. Rodon threw his seventh straight quality start (7 IP, 5 H 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K), picked up his league-leading ninth win and the Yankees improved to 11-3 when he takes the ball, which he has every turn through the rotation this year.

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Aaron Boone said. “He made some big pitches the couple of times when they did pressure him there a little bit.”

4. It was a wildly managed game for Boone from the moment the lineup was posted right through the final out. Boone started the day by sitting Aaron Judge — the hottest hitter in baseball —despite his 20 home runs in the last 40 games.

“I never like him out of the lineup, of course,” Boone said, “but I feel like he needs a day.”

That’s a very ominous “I feel like he needs a day” from Boone. Is Judge hurt? Did Judge say he needs a day? Did Boone and training staff notice something? Unfortunately, these are the questions all Yankees fans are left to wonder whenever someone is held out of the lineup because of the lack of transparency with injuries in the six-plus seasons with Boone as manager.

5. “I had been marking this one down,” Boone said. “He had played every day and this time of the year … it’s important to get off.”

Either Judge is banged up or hurt, or when the schedule came out, Boone saw a Sunday Night Baseball game against the Dodgers followed by a night game in Kansas City and was going to sit Judge in it no matter what. Whether he hit four home runs the previous day or if he has been the hardest out in baseball over the last six weeks (which he has been), he was going to sit. (We’ll know on Tuesday afternoon if it was really just a day off or something more if Judge is held out again.)

6. Holding Judge out wasn’t the only oddity of the lineup. Giancarlo Stanton had to sit to get Juan Soto back in the lineup as the designated hitter since apparently it’s another season in which Stanton can’t play the field, and Anthony Rizzo was benched for a second straight game as he’s 1-for-June at the plate. (Boone said Rizzo’s absence with last “a couple of days.”) Gleyber Torres and his .640 OPS was promoted to third in the lineup and singles-only hitter DJ LeMahieu to fifth. Trent Grisham started again and batted sixth and Jahmai Jones got his first start in over a month. Jose Trevino and Oswaldo Cabrera rounded out the lineup at eight and nine.

Going against one of the season’s best starters in Seth Lugo with that lineup seemed like a bad idea, but Lugo had troubled locating his eight different pitches in the first inning and the Yankees jumped all over him for a pair of runs. They did the same in the fourth to extend their lead to 4-0.

7. The wildness continued once Rodon came out after the seventh. Boone went to the shaky Ian Hamilton for the eighth and Hamilton tried his hardest to blow a three-run lead, but only ended up allowing a run. Clinging to a two-run lead for the ninth and with Clay Holmes and Luke Weaver unavailable, and Boone trying his hardest to stay away from Tommy Kahnle, Michael Tonkin was called on to close out the game.

Tonkin went from the Mets to the Twins back to the Mets to the Yankees this season. In his first day as a Yankee he was asked to close out an extra-inning lead in Milwaukee and he failed miserably. After that he was relegated to blowout and mop-up duty, which he pitched admirably in with a 1.23 ERA over his next 10 games with the Yankees. On Friday, he pitched a scoreless 1 2/3 innings in a 0-0 game against the Dodgers before going back to mop-up duty in Saturday’s loss to the Dodgers. He had Sunday off and then was being asked to serve as the interim closer on Monday.

8. Tonkin worked around a one-out walk, struck out two and picked up the save to secure the win.

Tonkin had a 5.14 ERA in seven innings for the Mets and a 9.00 ERA in two innings for the Twins. He has a 0.89 ERA in 20 1/3 innings for the Yankees. He has gone from last man on the roster and the DFA bubble to being an important piece of the bullpen. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for an arm that looked like it was going to be a one-weekend pickup when signed.

9. The Yankees faced one of the best starting pitchers and league and sat the hottest hitter in baseball, started four hitters with OPS off .638 or lower, dropped down three sacrifice bunts, hit no home runs, used a 34-year-old journeyman reliever to attempt the first ninth-inning save of his career and still came away with a win. If that’s not a sign how well this season has gone to date, I don’t know what is.

10. I expect Judge to be back in the lineup for the second game of the series along with Stanton and Rizzo, and the trio of Kahnle, Weaver and Holmes should all be available. The Yankees will need another strong start on the mound with Brady Singer going for the Royals. It will be Marcus Stroman for the Yankees, coming off his worst start of the season (4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR). Stroman has followed up each mediocre start with a good one this season and he’ll need to do that again on Tuesday.