Adam Warren appears more comfortable as a starting pitcher and when the New York Yankees get one of their injured starters back, he is giving them more confidence about keeping him in the rotation.
Especially with more outings like Tuesday when Warren pitched effectively into the seventh inning and combined with three relievers on a four-hitter in New York's 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
"I thought his location was tremendous," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "His slider was as good as we've seen. It's hard and it had a lot of break to it and sometimes those go hand in hand."
Warren made it to the seventh for the third straight outing but this seemed more effective than his previous two starts, 3-2 losses at Tampa Bay and Washington. In those starts, Warren allowed a combined six runs and 11 hits but also walked five.
This time, Warren allowed one run and three hits. With better command of his slider, he struck out five without a walk and threw 62 of 88 pitches for strikes.
"I think it all goes back to just getting ahead early, being aggressive," Warren said. "All my pitches were there tonight."
Warren made his 12th career start and ninth of the season in New York's No. 5 spot, a role that many thought before the season he was holding for Ivan Nova's return from Tommy John surgery but with Masahiro Tanaka returning soon and Ivan Nova possibly sometime near the All-Star break, someone else may exit instead of Warren.
"I feel like I'm getting more comfortable in this role," Warren said. "I felt like I'm starting to get on a roll a little bit and I'm getting more confidence out there and I feel like I could get deeper into games.
Warren retired the first 10 hitters on 42 pitches before allowing an infield single to third baseman Mike Moustakas on a ground ball to second baseman Stephen Drew, who was shifted into short right field. He protected a 2-0 lead by getting center fielder Lorenzo Cain and first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Warren allowed a solo home run to Kansas City rookie right fielder Paulo Orlando with one out in the sixth but ended the inning unscathed. He got the first out of the seventh, exited to a standing ovation and Justin Wilson recorded the final two outs.
Dellin Betances struck out the side in the eighth and Andrew Miller put two on in the ninth in a non-save situation before retiring Hosmer and designated hitter Kendrys Morales.
Warren's effectiveness was supported by first baseman Mark Teixeira, who drove in four runs and was involved in each run after being the only Yankees starter to go hitless in Monday's 14-1 rout.
"When you can get a guy like Adam to step up and really hold down a very good team that gives us a lot of confidence as hitters that we don’t need to score 14," Teixeira said of Warren. "We put five on the board and knew we were going to win that game."
Teixeira gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead with his 14th home run, a two-run shot off left-hander Jason Vargas (3-2) with two outs in the first. He then added a two-run double off Joe Blanton with one out in the fifth, took third on a fielding error by Cain and trotted home on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Chase Headley.
"He's been great," Teixeira said of Headley. "He's just a guy that drives in runs, get a lot of RBI. That's what we expect out of him and that's what he's done. He really stepped up and drove in the runs that we needed to win the game."
While the Yankees won their second in a row following an ugly stretch of 10 losses in 11 games, the Royals lost their season-high third straight. They have scored three runs in their last 27 innings and set a season low in hits.
"Sometimes slumps like this happen," Cain said. "But we're got to get it going tomorrow and put this behind us."