For the first time in several years the Yankees have a legitimate abundance of major league-caliber starting pitching. The pitching staff is anchored by veterans CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. Newcomer Masahiro Tanaka will begin his first season in the Majors after a stellar career in Japan this season. Ivan Nova looks to take the leap to the next level of stardom in the Bronx. Then there is the fifth starter spot which has been up for grabs this spring between Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. All four contenders have been solid in camp and have made the job of picking the winner much more difficult than originally thought.
It appears that Pineda will be the winner when the Yankees break camp in less than two weeks with Phelps and Warren relegated to bullpen duty and Nuno headed to Scranton. That is, unless the Yankees move one of them for bullpen or infield help. Barring a potential game-changing blockbuster trade that significantly upgrades the team, ala Tulo Tulowitzki from the Rockies, Chris Owings from the Diamondbacks, or Drew Storen from the Nationals, general manager Brian Cashman needs to resist the urge to trade one of the losers of the fifth starter job.
Injuries are an inevitable part of the long grind of a baseball season. The Yankees know better than most after injuries torpedoed their season losing Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Kevin Youkilis for substantial parts of the season. When injuries occur to your starting rotation, the effect is magnified as those holes are much harder to fill. Around the majors in just the last week, the Braves lost two fifths of their rotation to Tommy John surgery in Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy and the Athletics (Jarrod Parker) and Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin) both lost their Opening Day starters for the season.
The Yankees will not escape the 2014 without losing some of their starting staff to injuries or ineffectiveness and they will be glad when then can count on their depth in this area as the season progresses. The last time the Yankees used less than eight starting pitchers in a season Gerald Ford was President. CC Sabathia has more miles on his left arm than a 1994 Dodge Caravan. Kuroda is 39-years-old. Tanaka is adjusting to a new baseball, a new culture and pitching every fifth day instead of once a week. At some point one or more of them will break down and someone new will take the hill. Even last season when the Yankees were beleaguered by injuries all season to the point where their disabled list yielded a much more formidable lineup than Joe Girardi’s lineup card, the rotation of CC, Kuroda, Pettite, Nova and Phil Hughes remained relatively injury free. However, that did not stop 12 percent of the games being starting by others including Phelps (12), Nuno (3), Warren (2) and David Huff (2).
This season when the call for arms goes out, the Yankees will be thankful that they can call on the likes of Phelps, Warren and Nuno. The alternative of calling upon veteran retreads or unproven overwhelmed rookies is not a formula for success.