A week and a half ago, the Yankees’ starting rotation and bullpen seemed rock solid. All five starting pitchers were throwing the ball reasonably well and while the bullpen was short closer David Robertson, it also seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Setup man Shawn Kelley had stepped into the closer role and performed well. Then Ivan Nova hurt his elbow. He will undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. This led to Vidal Nuno joining the starting rotation. Next, Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar on his neck. He was subsequently suspended for 10 games. David Phelps was shifted from the bullpen to the starting rotation. All of a sudden, a strength was turned into a possible weakness for the Bronx Bombers.
On one hand, after a spring training in which four pitchers (Pineda, Nuno, Phelps, and Adam Warren) made strong cases in the competition for the fifth starter role, the Yankees were uniquely in a position to withstand the loss of two-fifths of their starting rotation. However, due to the fact that the Yankees opted to keep Nuno, Phelps and Warren all on the big league club, means that none of them are stretched out any longer. Thus, two-fifths of the starting rotation will now be on the limited pitch count. The bullpen, which became instantly weaker with the loss of Nuno and Phelps to the rotation, will be taxed to capacity as it is forced to throw more innings. On Saturday Vidal Nuno pitched relatively well. However, while he recorded 13 outs, the bullpen was forced to get 14.
The Yankees have already used the long reliever role as a revolving door for pitchers on the shuttle from Scranton. Shane Greene, Matt Daley, Bruce Billings, and Preston Claiborne have all been asked to give a few innings to the big league club before returning to Triple-A. Chris Leroux is the latest subject for the role having been called up before Saturday’s game against the Angels. The Yankees will likely try to simply tread water until Pineda’s suspension is over and Phelps or Nuno can move back into the long man role permanently. But in reality, that is the only option they have. There are no real options on the 40-man roster. If they were to designate someone for assignment they could being up Alfredo Aceves or Brian Gordon. Aceves has not given up a run in two starts at Triple-A thus far, and Gordon has a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings. But it seems the Yankees’ plan the long reliever role to revert back to Phelps or Nuno depending on who pitches better in the next 10 days.