Here are five things to watch for in the series:
1. Randy Vasquez debut
Despite the many questions in the Yankees rotation, it was a bit of a surprise when the team announced they are promoting Randy Vasquez to the team.
While the Yankees haven’t confirmed if he’ll start Friday’s game, it’s certain he will make his MLB debut in the first game of the team’s series against the Padres. The 24-year-old is the Yankees’ 12th-ranked prospect and has spent the year in Triple-A.
In nine starts with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Vasquez is 1-5 with a 4.85 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP. He does have 50 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched this season.
Here’s what MLB Pipeline said of the right-hander:
Vásquez owns the nastiest curveball in the system, combining low-80s power with vertical and horizontal movement produced by spin rates that top 3,100 rpm. His low arm slot imparts difficult induced vertical break on four-seam fastballs that park at 93-95 mph and reach 100. He also can mix in a slider with more velocity and sweep but less consistency than his curve and possesses a fading upper-80s changeup that needs more separation from his heater.
Friday will likely be a bullpen game of some sort, with Vasquez either starting or coming in after one or two innings like Jhony Brito did against the Tampa Bay Rays. It'll be interesting to see how Vasquez fairs and whether this depleted bullpen can shoulder the load.
2. Which version of the Padres will show up?
The Padres were many pundits' pick to win the World Series this season, but early on it’s been anything but.
San Diego sits with a 23-27 record (fourth in the NL West) and were a Rougned Odor home run away from losing a three-game set to the Washington Nationals. Although the Padres are without Manny Machado, they have plenty of firepower in their lineup with Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. However, that hasn’t really translated to wins this season.
Entering the series, the Padres are ranked last in team batting average (.223), 23rd in OPS (.699), and 26th in RBI (182). That doesn’t mean the Yankees can take this lineup lightly as they have scored seven or more runs in three of their last four games.
On the flip side, their pitching has been pretty solid. They rank 10th in ERA (3.93) and in WHIP (1.25), and fourth in opponent’s batting average (.233). Joe Musgrove (1-2, 6.75 ERA), Michael Wacha (5-1, 3.58 ERA) and Yu Darvish (3-3, 3.67 ERA) are the projected starters for the Padres. Wacha and Darvish -- especially Wacha -- have pitched very well this season and could give this Yankees lineup fits.
The low offensive numbers favors the Yankees, but if they have trouble scoring runs like they did on Thursday, it may not matter.
3. Luis Severino encore?
Severino made his 2023 debut last Sunday and pitched very well against the Reds. While he went just 4.2 innings, he only gave up four hits, one run and one walk while striking out five. So what will he do in his second start?
The Yankees hope they can stretch him out to go six innings, but that, of course, depends on how effective Severino can be. Severino is scheduled to pitch Saturday, and it’ll be the first time he’s pitched against the Padres in his career.
With Friday likely being a bullpen game, the Yankees could use length from Severino against San Diego. This is where the Domingo German suspension really hurts, as they are going with a 25-man roster until Sunday.
4. Can Gerrit Cole bounce back?
Gerrit Cole was just OK in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday, but the Yankees will need their ace this weekend, at the very least, for the health of the bullpen. The Yankees starters this week -- including Cole -- have yet to get an out in the seventh inning. That has led to the bullpen being asked to get an exorbitant number of outs, but if Cole can get back to the Cy Young form he showed earlier this season, it will go a long way.
Another aspect of Cole’s game to watch is who catches him. With Jose Trevino on the IL, Cole lost the catcher he pitches the best with.
With Kyle Higashioka: 3.58 ERA, 2.19 BA, .652 OPS in 42 starts
With Trevino: 2.58 ERA, .202 BA, .603 OPS in 33 starts.
Cole has never had Ben Rortvedt catch him, but it’s unlikely that will be the battery when Cole is expected to pitch Sunday. Can Cole and Higashioka get on the same page? For the Yankees' sake, they hope they can.
5. Anthony Volpe may need a break
The Yankees' top prospect is scuffling, to say the least. Although he had the first walk-off of his career earlier this week, there hasn't been much to write home about at the plate.
Volpe is currently in a 4-for-37 slump. What's worse is that he's not drawing walks and being as disciplined as he was earlier in the year. In his first 108 plate appearances, Volpe walked 16 times. In his last 96 plate appearances, he's walked just five times. He's also struck out nine times over his last six games.
The organization knew there would be growing pains for the 22-year-old, but he may need a break soon. His last off day was May 17 -- a game he pinch-hit in -- so not starting Friday could be in the cards for Volpe.
Often when players struggle at the plate, they take it with them to the field or vice-versa. The young shortstop has become a bit shaky defensively as of late. He didn't make a play that he probably should have that could have limited that eight-run seventh inning against the Orioles on Wednesday. And on Thursday, he booted a grounder -- that was called a hit -- that would have ended the first inning and cost starter Clarke Schmidt 17 pitches. He even backed up to the lip of the outfield grass on a hopper to make a play that almost cost the Yankees an out.
Boone said after Thursday's game that Volpe has had competitive at-bats and has just been unlucky. If that's true, the Yankees hope that luck turns this weekend.