Once thought of as a temporary solution to a big problem, Small will try to continue his surprising run with the Yankees when he takes the mound in the deciding game of their series with the league-best Chicago White Sox.
Small has helped stabilize the back of the Yankees’ battered rotation, winning all three of his starts since being brought up from the minors on July 20. The 33-year-old right-hander hadn’t started a major league game since 1996 before last month, but injuries to Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano and Chien-Ming Wang forced the Yankees to search for starters.
“I know I’m an insurance policy. I’ve been that for the last six or seven years,” Small said after throwing 6 2-3 innings of one-run ball in a 6-2 win over Toronto on Friday. “This has been a dream come true. After my first start at Yankee Stadium I said ‘Don’t pinch me, I don’t want to wake up,’ but now it’s serious time and I want to help this team any way I can.”
Small doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he has thrown big pitches in big spots. He struck out just two on Friday, but benefited from two inning-ending double plays, including one with the bases loaded in the fifth.
Small is likely to stay in the rotation for the time being because right-handers Brown, Pavano and Wang appear no closer to returning to the Yankees now than when Small made his debut last month.
Pavano was expected back this week, but he had a setback in his rehab from an injured shoulder and was scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews in Alabama on Tuesday. Jaret Wright, who has been out since April 24 with a shoulder injury, may return next week after throwing seven effective innings for Class-A Tampa on Tuesday in his third rehab start.
Until they get Wright and another starter back, the Yankees will continue to count on Small and right-hander Shawn Chacon as they try to close the gap between themselves and first-place Boston in the AL East. Tuesday’s loss, coupled with the Red Sox’s 8-7 win over Texas dropped the Yankees 4 1/2 games out.
Alex Rodriguez hit his AL-leading 33rd homer leading off the ninth for the Yankees.
The White Sox lead the AL Central by 12 1/2 games over Cleveland.