BOSTON — Clarke Schmidt’s early season turnaround is a story of persistence — the Yankees sticking with the right-hander and his own faith in his cutter.
Both sides have begun to reap the rewards.
Getting his first extended run in the big league rotation due in large part to injuries elsewhere, Schmidt endured a rough first month of the season, in which left-handed hitters crushed his cutter, a pitch that he developed over the offseason to help him face that side of the plate.
But Schmidt was not tempted to run away from the pitch, he said.
Instead, he used trial and error to figure out where and when to use it best.
“Even early on when [the cutter] was getting slugged, everyone was like, ‘Why are you throwing this?’ ” said Schmidt, who will start the first game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox on Sunday after the game scheduled for Saturday night was postponed by rain at Fenway Park.
“It was still a really good pitch, it’s just I was using it wrong, and I was throwing it to the wrong locations. … You have the trial by error and you’re like, ‘OK, now I know I can’t throw it here, I can throw it here.’ It’s part of the game. You have to fail to make adjustments. Unfortunately, that’s the way this game is.”
The Yankees had encouraged Schmidt to incorporate the cutter into his repertoire to help attack left-handed hitters, who gave him trouble last season.
But in Schmidt’s first nine starts, lefties hit .369 with a 1.105 OPS and five home runs against him.
Against the cutter alone, batters hit .419 with a startling .903 slugging percentage, per Brooks Baseball.
In five starts since then, with Schmidt gaining a better understanding of how to use the cutter and throwing it even more, lefties have hit .205 with a .521 OPS and zero home runs against him.
Against the cutter, opponents were hitting just .182 with a .273 slugging percentage.
“It’s huge,” Schmidt said. “Before it was like, we were kind of treading water a little bit when we were facing some of these lefties and we’d face lineups with seven or eight lefties. Now I’m kind of comfortable when I face that many because it’s almost better in some sense, just because I gotta use my breaking ball a little more. So yeah, I think it’s just being able to make those adjustments is the constant part of this game. I’m really confident with where we are right now.”
Gerrit Cole, who has served as a mentor for Schmidt since last season, said he has seen an uptick in his command overall, along with a better grasp of when to use the cutter and how not to overuse it.
Cole also credited Schmidt for sticking to the process despite taking his licks early.
“We don’t want to fail here; obviously no one does,” Cole said. “We got a bit of an uphill battle for the division too, so every game is always critically important. So it makes going through struggles while you’re trying to get your footing and everything that he’s trying to do early especially challenging. But I think he’s handled it really well and I think that’s why you’re seeing him start to improve the more and more he takes the ball.”
Earlier in the season, the lefty-heavy Red Sox lineup would have presented a daunting task for Schmidt. But he threw 5 ¹/₃ innings of one-run ball against Boston last weekend and will face the Red Sox again on Sunday.
“Even when I was going through that stretch, everyone was on me — obviously that’s how it should be — but I was so confident,” Schmidt said. “It was one of those unwavering things where I knew it was going to [turn]. Because I felt like I was getting to good locations for the most part. There was just some small things I needed to clean up. I didn’t feel like it was just the cutter itself, because I knew it had good shape and I’d get good feedback on it.”
𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆: nypost.com
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁 email@example.com