Back in spring training, there were myriad questions surrounding the Yankee lineup: What can we expect from Alex Rodriguez? Will Mark Teixeira stay healthy? Will we get any production from the middle infield?
Now, nearly halfway through the season, A-Rod and Teixeira have all but silenced the doubters (and haters), but uncertainties concerning the starting rotation are beginning to crop up. Ace Masahiro Tanaka, already having served a disabled list stint earlier in the season, raised eyebrows on Saturday with his second straight subpar outing. In his last two starts combined, Tanaka has surrendered 11 earned runs and 19 hits, lasting only five innings in each start. Manager Joe Girardi seemed unconcerned about Tanaka’s disappointing performance as of late, pointing out that he was still reaching 93 or 94 on the radar gun.
One Yankee starter who has caught heat all year for being inconsistent is CC Sabathia. The former Yankee ace has descended into let’s-hope-to-get-six-innings-out-of-him territory. This season, he’s 3-7 with an ERA of 5.65. Opposing batters are hitting .306 off him, and he’s already served up 17 home runs.
Arguably the most consistent Yankee starter may not be a starter much longer now that Ivan Nova has returned from Tommy John surgery. Adam Warren is 3-3 with a 2.82 ERA in his last seven starts and a WHIP of just over 1. He’s also given the Yankees depth, averaging over six innings per start in that stretch of time.
The Yankees’ other two starters, Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, have been solid, even brilliant at times, but have also been plagued with abysmal outings here and there. In short, it’s difficult to tell just what you’re going to get from the starting rotation each night.
Fortunately, Nova’s return does afford the Yankees some flexibility. Nova is slated to start on Tuesday against the Angels and Warren is scheduled to go Wednesday, showcasing Girardi’s plan to stick with a six-man rotation, at least in the short run. Extra rest for Tanaka and Nova, both recovering from injuries, and Pineda, who has already far exceeded his innings totals from previous injury-plagued seasons, may not be a bad thing.
On the other hand, if Girardi decides to send Warren to the pen, it can only help their chances late in the game. Since closer Andrew Miller was DL-ed due to a strained flexor in his forearm, the formerly lights-out Yankee bullpen has suffered somewhat of an identity crisis. Dellin Betances was upgraded to closer, and a revolving door of fresh-off-the-boat from Scranton relievers was employed to try to fill the gaping hole known as the seventh and eighth innings.
For now, it seems like Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson are the go-to guys for setup, but when it comes to their bullpen, the Yankees are still making more transactions than a degenerate gambler with a debit card: So far this year, they’ve carried 25 different pitchers, and it’s not even the All-Star break. Warren could be used as an alternate for a setup man to round out a nice trio of trustworthy relievers. He could also be used as a long man in the event that a starter fails to provide length, which is bound to happen a lot more as the season progresses.
Amidst all the pitching questions, one thing remains certain: the Yankees will only go as far as their pitching will take them. For reasons we don’t have time to debate today, pitching has now become the key to survival in Major League Baseball, and the only way to sidestep mediocrity. If the Yankees hope to edge out the other mediocre teams in the AL East, their rotation needs to tighten up and live up to its potential.
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