A dream coming true for Domingo German

by Roberto Salvador Klapisch

Yankees right-hander Domingo German was living in that surreal world that only a pitcher could appreciate, where every fastball lived on a corner, every curveball had a wicked late break and the change-up was so good it disappeared the moment it reached the plate. The Indians stared out from the visitors’ dugout and wondered how a rookie could make them look this helpless.

German had played out this scenario a million times in his head, growing up in the Dominican Republic with visions of someday throwing a no-hitter in the big leagues. Like most of his friends his age, German loved baseball.

But he stood apart for the effortless way he could make pitches dance, left and right, up and down, enough to steal his coaches’ breath. And now he was showing those skills to the world.

The date was May 5, and German found himself on the mound in the Bronx. He didn’t exactly earn his spot in the rotation, at least not the ideal way. Jordan Montgomery, the No. 5 starter, was removed after one inning against the Astros in his previous appearance, diagnosed with a flexor strain in his left elbow. German was summoned from the bullpen and shut out the world champs over the next four innings. Five days later the Yankees again turned their gaze to German, asking him to stand in for Montgomery, whose injury would cost him two months on the disabled list. German, who’d been on the periphery since 2016, knew his moment had finally arrived.

If the rookie was nervous in front of a huge Stadium crowd against the 2016 American League champion Cleveland Indians, he didn’t show it. Instead he gave off the vibe of a veteran who understood the science of controlling hitters’ bat speed. German retired the first 11 batters he faced until finally issuing a four-pitch walk to Jose Ramirez in the fifth. Then, in the sixth, he walked Edwin Encarnación although neither runner advanced past first base.

The Indians never cracked the code on German’s ability to feather the strike zone with all three pitches, changing eye levels and velocities multiple times within the same at-bat. The rookie struck out nine as he whipped through the Tribe’s lineup twice, looking up at the scoreboard and realizing no one had come close to a base hit through six innings.

“I’d been waiting a long time, it’s the kind of thing you daydream about as a kid,” German would later say. “You think of a no-hitter or a perfect game. It means a lot to me.”

The Yankees were just as grateful, as German’s performance temporarily eased their fears about the back end of their rotation. Montgomery had been at least dependable in that role. While he wasn’t dominant enough to ever take the ball in a Game 7, he was usually good enough to keep the Bronx Bombers close into the late innings.

But now German was proving to be a potential upgrade. Even though manager Aaron Boone pulled his rookie after the sixth – German was already well past his pitch count – there was no doubt he’d earned another start and would possibly remain in the No. 5 spot into mid-summer.

That was no small leap for a pitcher who’d been sent down to Class-AAA at the end of spring training. The Yankees couldn’t find room for German in the rotation, although they were impressed with the 17 strikeouts in 15 2-3  innings. He seemed calm and mature beyond his 25 years, as if he knew his time was coming. But that was once a dream, too, as Tommy John surgery cost him the entire 2015 season in the minors.

Until then, the Yankees were banking on German’s three-pitch repertoire translating in the American League. He’d come from the Marlins in the 2014 trade for Nathan Eovaldi and was only beginning to mature before blowing out his elbow. German finally returned in 2016, but it wasn’t until 2017 that he finally began climbing the organizational ladder.

Starting the year at Class-AA, German was promoted to Class-AAA Scranton last May where he posted a 2.83 ERA in 76.1 innings. By June 10 he was wearing Pinstripes. German’s unorthodox, side-slinging delivery masked just how hard he threw – mid to upper 90s on the four-seam fastball – and made it just as difficult for hitters to pick up his change-up, which David Robertson called “flat-out nasty.”

It didn’t hurt, either, that German stands just 6-0, 175 pounds, a human whippet  who scared no one until the moment the ball left his fingertips. And as it turned out, those brilliant six innings against the Indians were no fluke. German had been just as untouchable in his previous appearance against the Astros. Yankees manager Aaron Boone went out of his way to say German is “more than capable of stepping in there in a starting role. He’s a guy that can get both sides of the plate out.”

It remains to be seen, of course, whether German is a long-term solution as a starter. He struggled in his next turn against the A’s, allowing six earned runs in five innings and had similar problems against the Rangers on Tuesday night, allowing six runs in 3.2 innings.

If the American League is already adjusting to German’s delivery and arsenal, it’ll be up to him to counter-move. Just don’t expect him to panic in the meantime. When German says, “this is something I’ve wanted” he’s drawing from a deep reservoir of patience and poise. Those are precious currencies at any age.

Featured Image: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images Sport