Sheffield rebounds with nine-strikeout outing

Yankees No. 3 prospect limits 'Ducks to one hit in 5 2/3 innings

Justus Sheffield ranks second in the Eastern League with a .088 opponents' batting average through two starts. (David Monseur/MiLB.com)

By Nathan Brown / MiLB.com | April 13, 2018 11:10 PM ET

Coming out of Spring Training, Justus Sheffield waged a battle within about the pitcher he should be versus the hurler he knew he already was. A starter who thrives off an attack mentality and who finds a groove easiest when he's not trying too hard, he couldn't get out of his own way in a 4 1/3-inning season debut in which he walked six and allowed three runs and two hits.

On Friday, Sheffield didn't come away with his first win of the season, but he bounced back from that erratic start.

The Yankees' No. 3 prospect gave up one hit -- a homer to Joe Sever -- and struck out nine over 5 2/3 innings as Double-A Trenton rallied for a 2-1 victory at Akron. Sheffield issued a pair of walks, hit a batter and threw 60 of 96 pitches for strikes.


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"I just got back to being myself. It was me trying to be too much of a command guy. That's not who I am," Sheffield said. "I attack, and when I do, my command comes along with it. I just knew I needed to stay ahead in the count tonight and things would come.

"Coming out of Spring Training, I had it beat in my head to command my fast balls a bit better, but it was tough for me to pitch the way I do. Today, I just pounded the strike zone and just attacked overall. I told myself not to make the perfect pitch every time but instead just played my game."

Entering his third season spending at least some time in Double-A, Sheffield was past the butterflies of season debuts. But after his performance a week ago, he took the mound at Canal Park with a fiery attitude. He struck out seven batters over his first four innings and easily brushed off two walks and an error behind him.

Video: Sheffield picks up ninth K for Trenton

The leadoff homer he gave up to Sever that gave Akron a 1-0 lead in the fifth didn't faze the 21-year-old, either.

"I had a 3-2 count. I knew we had a close game, but I knew if I could get a fastball in, I could get him," Sheffield said. "It was just elevated and he put a good swing and it went over. That's baseball."

Sheffield responded by retiring the final five batters he faced, but he exited with the Thunder trailing, 1-0. Trenton had been 0-4 in games in which it scored two runs or fewer.

But Mandy Alvarez sparked the comeback with a two-out single in the seventh, the Thunder's third hit of the night. After a pair of walks, he stole home to tie it up. The following half-inning, Alvarez made a pair of defensive plays at third base to keep the game deadlocked. But the momentum had clearly shifted.

"I think that gave us a bit of a spark. ... That got guys ready to go," Sheffield said. "That's how it's going to be. These are the funest we play in. It's a fight, and we came out with a win at the end."

Video: Thunder's Alvarez swipes home on wild play

In the eighth, Gosuke Katoh led off with a single and scored the go-ahead run on Chris Gittens' double to right-center field.

Caleb Frare (1-0) and Joe Harvey combined to strike out the final five batters, sealing Trenton's fourth win of the season.

Still seeking his first win of the season, Sheffield said this last week has been an important teaching moment. Whether he feels it or not, as one of the top three prospects in the Yankees system, there's some pressure to produce, grow and advance to the Majors in the near future.

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But for the Tennessee native, his biggest focus is health. Sheffield's confidence in himself is unfailing -- as long as he's playing his own game. If he continues to pitch every five days, he knows he'll create opportunities to impress, and the Yankees front office hasn't produced any sort of timeline.

As frustrating as his 2018 debut may have been, it could have provided a spark.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was upset and mad about it," Sheffield said. "I knew it wasn't the pitcher I am and how I go about my business, but I told myself that that's the first one. I have to stay healthy and I've got 25 or 26 more to go."

Nathan Brown is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @NathanBrownNYC. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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