Vidal Nuno earned his first win since May 7th on Friday night against the Boston Red Sox. He pitched one of his best games of the season, holding the Red Sox to two hits over 5 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium. He seemed to benefit from the extra day off between starts as his fastball, which has spent most of the season around 88 MPH, was consistently hovering at about 90-91 MPH. This helped him strikeout five Red Sox. But make no mistake, despite this most recent good start, Vidal Nuno has been terrible and still needs to be replaced in the rotation immediately.
Nuno’s record stands at 2-4 after his win on Friday night. His ERA dropped to a still outrageous 5.42. He has given up 15 home runs already this season. He is not a strikeout pitcher, compiling only 55 punch outs in 73 innings of work. He does not have overpowering stuff. He is not an innings eater. He has gone over six innings only four times all season. He gives up way too many home runs, and often puts the Bombers in a hole early. He gives up leads. He is hurting the Yankees and needs to be replaced soon rather than later.
The internal options to replace Nuno are admittedly underwhelming. Adam Warren has been ruled out, as he is no longer stretched out and is too vital in his bullpen role. Manny Banuelos, the one-time super prospect, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery in Double-A. He was also recently placed on the DL with blister problems. Shane Greene has approaching six in Triple-A. Possible spot starters Alfredo Aceves, Bruce Billings, and David Huff are all unimpressive, and offer no clear upgrade over Nuno. But at this point, with his turn in the rotation due to come up three more times before the All Star break, the Yankees would do well to give those starts to one of the other options. While we don’t know how well the others might do, we know what little Nuno can be counted on to provide.
There is hope on the way however. CC Sabathia will throw his first rehab start today for the Yankees Single-A Tampa affiliate. This marks the start of a 30-day rehab clock for the former Cy Young winner, at the end of which, Sabathia will be back. Since Sabathia’s injury was to his knee and not his arm, his rehab is not expected to be overly lengthy. He has been throwing the whole time he has been out to keep up his arm strength. He will probably need about three or four rehab starts to get his pitch count up to a respectable level. That puts Sabathia on track to re-enter the Yankee rotation right after the All-Star break. At that time, Nuno should be banished to Triple-A to stay stretched out in case another injury occurs.
While Sabathia was not pitching well before he got hurt, going 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA, he is a proven winner, and more importantly for the Yankees at the moment a workhorse. Other than Masahiro Tanaka, no Yankees’ starter has been able to consistently go deep into games, which has created a monstrous strain on the bullpen. The Yankees would love for Sabathia to return to his former glory, but given his age and diminished velocity that seems unlikely. However, there is little reason to believe he can’t come back and simply be an innings-eating force on the mound. The Yankees desperately need a second starter who can be counted on to give the bullpen a night off consistently. Even with Sabathia a shell of his former self, he is a substantial upgrade over Nuno, and will prove very valuable in the second half.