Eovaldi answers Girardi’s call to step up

With CC Sabathia going on the disabled list Monday because of inflammation in his right knee that could scratch him for the rest of the season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi called for other starters in the rotation to step up.

Let it be said that Nathan Eovaldi stepped up.

Eovaldi had nothing to show on his record for his eight formidable innings in the 1-0 victory over the Astros Monday night that sent the Yankees back into a first-place tie with the Blue Jays in the American League East.

Birthday boy Brett Gardner (32) scored the only run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Beltran, who played in his 1,000th AL game. Beltran has also played in 1,269 games in the National League and became the sixth (and only active) player to play at least 1,000 games in each league. The others: Bob Boone, Vladimir Guerrero, Fred McGriff and Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Dave Winfield.

The Yankees had relief pitcher Oliver Perez to thank for this one. The lefthander who wore out his welcome with the Mets years ago faced three batters, walked each one (one intentionally) and threw a wild pitch before Beltran sent everyone home with a fly ball to deep center field off righthander Chad Qualls.

The winning decision went to Andrew Miller (2-2), who pitched the ninth inning in continuing the string of zeroes Eovaldi set up.

Although he was stuck with a no-decision, Eovaldi remained undefeated in 12 starts since his last loss June 16 at Miami. The hard-throwing righthander went into triple digits several times in lighting up the radar gun and was at his best in getting out of tight spots.

Eovaldi showed the sort of grit Sabathia has been known for by pitching out of four jams in his scoreless duel with Houston starter Scott Feldman, who also fashioned eight shutout innings.

After a first inning in which Astros hitters watched three fastballs clocked at 101, 100 and 101 from Eovaldi, two one-out singles put him to his first test, which he passed with flying colors by striking out Chris Carter and Hank Conger.

That in itself is not remarkable considering Houston has struck out more than 1,100 times already this season. The Astros have the lowest team batting average (.240) in the AL but the most home runs (169). It is often feast and famine for the Stros, who swing and miss a lot.

Two of the three walks Eovaldi issued came in the fifth, but he ended the threat by getting Marwin Gonzalez on a ground ball to second base. Houston threatened again in the sixth when Carlos Correa led off with a single and Colby Rasmus walked. A sacrifice bunt by Carlos Gomez advanced the runners, but Eovaldi saw to it that they went no farther.

Rookie first baseman Greg Bird fielded a hard grounder by Evan Gattis and caught Rasmus wandering too far off second base to get the second out before Luis Valbuena ended the inning with a flyout to center.

In the eighth, a wild throw to first base by Chase Headley for his 20th error put Correa at second base with one out. Eovaldi set down Rasmus and Gomez on routine fly balls. In the Gomez at-bat, Eovaldi hit 100 on the gun with his 106th and 107th pitches. Remarkable.

Eovaldi has always been a hard thrower, but he has developed into more of a pitcher this year for several reasons, beginning with using his power to work his fastball inside. He has gotten ahead in the count regularly to make use of his split-finger fastball and has been working on a slider, which Girardi felt was the best he has seen all year from him.

Over his past 12 starts, Eovaldi is 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 73 2/3 innings that has dropped his season ERA from 5.12 to 4.00. He is 5-0 with a 3.08 ERA in 12 starts at Yankee Stadium covering 73 innings.

The Yankees had several chances to give Eovaldi a lead. In the second inning, Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew singled with none out, but Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a fielder’s choice, Gardner struck out and Alex Rodriguez flied out.

Drew’s hit brought his batting average to .200 for the first time since his fifth at-bat of the season April 8 when he was 1-for-5. It came in his 227th plate appearance. Alas, Drew was hitless in his next two at-bats to fall back to .199.

Brian McCann, who reached base in all four times up with three singles and a walk, began three innings with singles, including the seventh when he crossed to third on a single off the right field wall by Beltran. Unfortunately, the slow-legged catcher tried to score on a fly ball to center but was thrown out at the plate by Gomez.

McCann’s walk in the ninth was the third given up by Perez and loaded the bags for Beltran, who spared Girardi from having to use Mark Teixeira as a pinch hitter with the huge sacrifice fly.

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