The New York Yankees’ rotation is limping.
Hiroki Kuroda’s last start was promising, as was Vidal Nuno’s, but C.C. Sabathia’s continuous struggle to find consistency is seriously troubling. It should also be reason enough for the team to gladly wait patiently for Michael Pineda to get healthy. Again.
The Yankees don’t know what they’re getting with Pineda after he returns from his back injury because his last stay on the disabled list was for his shoulder. His shoulder caused him to miss two full seasons in the majors, but his back should only keep him out until late May or early June, ESPN New York reported last week.
At 39, some regression is a fully reasonable expectation for Kuroda, especially since he’s strongly hinted at his own retirement. But for Sabathia, a 33-year-old with three seasons left on his lucrative contract, regression is bordering on alarming.
While Sabathia adjusts to his lean build and slower fastball, the Yankees simply cannot count on Nuno and David Phelps to provide the rotation with much-needed consistency. Pineda can absolutely do just that.
In 2011, his rookie season, Pineda pitched with a 2.65 ERA through the month of June, before struggling through July, August and September. Before his suspension for pine tar April 23, his ERA was 1.83. After seeing what the big righty can do, the Yankees want to see him team up with Masahiro Tanaka to create a dominant one-two punch in the rotation.
According to a report from NJ.com, Pineda is on “a slow, deliberate approach” to rehab a strained back, sustained three pitches into a simulated game meant to keep the pitcher “sharp.” From Milwaukee, Girardi told the website Friday Pineda is only exercising right now and may have only just started playing catch.
As it stands, the Yankees bullpen is an asset, with Adam Warren and Dellin Betances locking down setup roles for David Robertson in his inaugural season as Mariano Rivera’s successor. Phelps, Nuno and Alfredo Aceves are essentially long men who can provide spot starts for the next few weeks, but none have been able to consistently hold a rotation spot in their careers.
The Yankees are 0.5 games out of first place and, despite their three-game win streak, they’re 5-5 in their last 10 games. During that stretch, they lost their slim lead in the American League East to the Baltimore Orioles.
Pineda and Ivan Nova were supposed to be major parts of this rotation, but the latter is out for the season with a UCL tear. The Yankees farm system is void of any MLB-ready starters, so the team needs Pineda healthy and effective, even if it’s only for the second half of the season.
The only way to do that is to give the righty more than ample time to heal now.
Factoring in another week for precautionary reasons, Pineda’s ETA is mid-June. A strong return would also give general manager Brian Cashman much more flexibility in the type of deadline deal he could make. The Yankees’ biggest need figures to be either an infielder with a good bat or another rotation arm.