Luis Gil sets new career-high with 9 strikeouts as Yankees take series from Rays

NEW YORK — Prior to Luis Gil’s fourth start of the season, Aaron Boone was asked about the righty’s command and potential.

Gil had not shown much of the former over his first three starts, walking 14 batters over just as many innings. That includes seven free passes against the Blue Jays on April 15.

However, the potential has been evident, as Gil’s high-90s heat and secondary stuff had yielded 20 strikeouts. Even with the walks, he had limited opponents to six runs.

“Man, if he’s in the strike zone, he’s gonna give us a great chance to win. He, at his best, can shut down anyone,” Boone said. “He’s still growing as a player and a big leaguer. But he’s capable of big things. We’ve seen more than just flashes of that.”

Such was the case Sunday.

While Gil walked three more batters against the Rays, the 25-year-old set a new career-high with nine strikeouts in a 5-4 Yankees win. Gil didn’t allow an earned run while totaling two hits and 97 pitches over 5.2 innings.

He exited to a nice ovation from a modest crowd at Yankee Stadium.

Boone said that Gil and pitching coach Matt Blake worked on the hurler’s mechanics, particularly getting his shoulders in line, after his erratic start in Toronto. The adjustments paid off, as Tampa Bay needed Gil’s help to score off him on Sunday.

The Rays’ one run off Gil came in the third inning when the starter airmailed a pickoff throw to second base, which sent José Caballero to third. Caballero, dancing off the bag, then pestered Gil into a balk that tied the game at one.

The Yankees unknotted the game in the fifth though, as Alex Verdugo picked up a two-run single with the bases loaded and two away. Jose Trevino and Oswaldo Cabrera then added one-run knocks.

The Yankees scored their first run on an Anthony Rizzo single in the first.

The Rays scored two more runs on an Amed Rosario double off Dennis Santana in the eighth. The righty allowed another run when Curtis Mead singled, but Victor González closed things out in the ninth with Clay Holmes unavailable.

While things got close at the end, the Yankees’ busy fifth frame set them up for a series-clinching victory. The team will now turn its attention to the Las Vegas Sacramento Oakland Athletics.

The A’s, scuffling a few games below .500, will play four games in the Bronx this week as the Yankees look to pad their lead in the American League East.

Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman, Clarke Schmidt and Nestor Cortes are the Yanks’ probable pitchers for the series. JP Sears, traded from the Yankees to Oakland in the Frankie Montas deal, will take the ball in Monday’s opener, which begins at 1:05 p.m. due to Passover.

Paul Blackburn, Joe Boyle and Alex Wood are also slated to start for Oakland during the series.