A visit to Chicago to play the White Sox beginning Monday will represent a quick reunion for Keynan Middleton.
But the righty the Yankees picked up at the trade deadline will not enter his former home with much nostalgia.
“Showing up was dark in Chicago this year,” Middleton said before pitching two scoreless innings in the Yankees’ 9-7 loss to the Astros on Sunday in The Bronx. “It wasn’t very much fun most of the time. Just to be here in a different environment, different atmosphere, don’t have to worry about the BS.
“I’m excited to be here. They’re playing meaningful ballgame games here, and that’s all I’ve really wanted to do my whole career.”
Middleton signed a minor league deal with the White Sox this offseason, believing he would make his way to the majors and pitch for a contending team.
Only half of that belief bore true, as Middleton debuted in early April and pitched well, but a White Sox team with high expectations quickly fell out of wild-card contention.
The seventh-year big leaguer has never been to the playoffs and hopes the trade-deadline deal will change his fortunes.
He was thrilled to hear about the swap, which cost the Yankees minor league righty Juan Carela.
“This is a team that’s going for a playoff spot, and they’re trying to fight to get there,” said Middleton, who has been sharp in two appearances with the Yankees. “It’s been a long season. It’s been kind of dark, not too much to play for at times.”
Within that darkness, the 29-year-old found a new way to pitch.
He had been effective, if not excellent, as a mostly fastball-slider pitcher out of the bullpen with the Angels, Mariners and Diamondbacks.
Under White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz, whom Middleton credited heavily, the righty amped up the usage of his changeup, from 17 percent last year to 43.8 percent this season.
He pitched to a 3.96 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 36 ¹/₃ innings with Chicago.
“I think everybody had the book on me that I was primarily a fastball guy,” Middleton said. “[Katz] did some deep-diving on me this offseason, and he made it a point to make sure that I was a dude again. He was switching things up for me as far as pitch usage.”
He is still adapting and said the Yankees, under pitching coach Matt Blake, already have taught him a tweaked slider that he has begun featuring.
He pitched perfect seventh and eighth innings Sunday and used that slider to strike out Jose Abreu.
“I love it,” Middleton said of the pitch. “Learned it that [Friday]. I took it out and put it in the game [Friday], and it worked.”
The Yankees listed Wednesday’s starter in Chicago, which would be Luis Severino’s turn in the rotation, as TBA.
According to manager Aaron Boone, there still has not been a final decision regarding whether the struggling righty will stay in the rotation.
Part of the calculus will entail the state of the Yankees’ staff.
“How things go today, [Monday], Tuesday all can factor into those kinds of things,” Boone said before his bullpen needed to cover 6 ¹/₃ innings Sunday. “We’ll continue to get our arms around what the best thing is.”
The Yankees have an off day Thursday, which could incentivize a bullpen game.
One spot-starter possibility is no longer a possibility.
After pitching 1 ²/₃ innings Sunday, Jhony Brito was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The move creates room for Jonathan Loaisiga, who is expected back Monday.
Loaisiga is with the team and “very much ready to go,” Boone said.
The righty has not pitched in the majors since April 5 and underwent bone spur surgery in May.
The Yankees’ bullpen has been the best in the game without a top weapon.
“I feel like we got a number of guys down there throwing the ball really well. You add Lo to that mix, it hopefully that makes them even better,” Boone said. “Lo can do everything from close to give you more than an inning to all the other high-leverage spots.”
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