Michael King wanted to give the Yankees “flexibility” for the future by showing what he could do as a starter over the final month-plus of this season.
Instead he is doing his best to force their hand.
King’s first five starts as a member of the rotation were encouraging, but he took his game to another level on Wednesday night, striking out 13 over seven innings of one-run ball in a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays in The Bronx.
While the Yankees are not playing for much as a team — and looked that way in another quiet offensive effort against Blue Jays ace Kevin Gausman — King is pitching for a potential spot in the 2024 rotation.
And against a potent Blue Jays lineup that is fighting for playoff positioning, he was dominant.
King’s 13 strikeouts, seven innings and 101 pitches were all career highs.
He did not walk a batter, scattering five hits and pounding the strike zone early and often.
The 13 strikeouts were also the most by any Yankees pitcher this season.
King struck out the side in the first inning and again in the sixth, both times on 14 pitches.
He got some occasional help from home-plate umpire Lance Barrett’s strike zone — so did Gausman, which led to Aaron Boone’s ejection in the second inning — but mostly racked up the whiffs on his own.
In six starts since joining the rotation, King has pitched to a 1.27 ERA with 42 strikeouts and four walks across 28 ¹/₃ innings. Three of his last four starts have come against playoff teams.
As currently constructed, the Yankees (76-76) have Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodon as locks in the rotation with Clarke Schmidt also likely nabbing a spot after a solid first season as a full-time starter.
Nestor Cortes figures to fill another spot, assuming he enters the year healthy after a rotator cuff strain derailed this season.
The Yankees are also expected to be in on Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto this winter.
Conceding that how the offseason plays out could change things, Aaron Boone said before Wednesday’s game that “I’m looking at [King] as a starter.” He certainly looked the part against the Blue Jays (85-67).
The only run that King allowed came in the third inning, when the Blue Jays strung together three straight two-out singles. Besides that, King was mostly untouchable.
The Yankees’ bullpen did a number on the final score, though.
Tommy Kahnle walked four batters in the eighth inning to force in a run, with Ian Hamilton walking in another before giving up three more runs in the ninth.
The Yankees’ only offense came on Austin Wells’ first career home run, a solo blast to the second deck in right field in the bottom of the ninth.