New York Yankees Editorial: Could starting rotation become biggest strength?


Only a couple of weeks ago, the New York Yankees starting rotation was operating near the bottom of the MLB, leading many to believe an upgrade was bound to occur, something I covered near the end of May.

Since the posting of that article, the Yankees rotation has rebounded.  At the time, the Yankees starters ranked 24th in the MLB with an ERA of 4.45.  Entering Friday night’s contest with the Baltimore Orioles, they are up to 13th, with an ERA of 4.02.

After dropping 10 out of 11, the Yankees have now won 11 out of 15, and seven out of eight, and the rotation has played a huge role in that.  Most encouraging is that Masahiro Tanaka has returned from the disabled list looking better than ever, pitching 14 innings across two games, allowing just two runs and eight hits, while striking out 15 and walking none.  Tanaka has also thrown 73% of his pitches for strikes.

CC Sabathia has also looked better of late, another encouraging sign.  He has thrown 11 2/3 IP over his last two outings, allowing only four runs while striking out 13.  He, like Tanaka, has been pounding the strike zone, throwing 66% of his pitches for strikes.  After allowing two home runs in the first inning of his last outing, Sabathia settled down, and looked near dominant across the next five frames, before getting ejected.

Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren have pitched increasingly well as the Yankees number four and five starters.  Eovaldi has allowed just eight runs across 24 IP in his last four outings, and only has one loss on the season.  Warren has been better than even the most optimistic fan could have predicted.  Across his last six starts, he has allowed just 12 earned runs over 38 IP.  Although he hasn’t gotten great run support, he hasn’t allowed more than three runs since May 3rd.

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All of this goes without even mentioning Michael Pineda, who has arguably been the best Yankees starter this season, and could be an All-Star.  After two rough starts, Pineda has rebounded over his last two starts, throwing 12 2/3 IP, while allowing just three runs, and striking out 17, compared to just three walks.  Pineda did have his turn skipped to keep his arm fresh.

With Tanaka and Pineda forming a dominant 1-2 punch, and the rest of the staff picking up the slack, the Yankees will face a tough dilemma soon.  Ivan Nova has begun his rehab process, and according to a scout who watched him pitch Monday night, his first rehab start since Tommy John surgery, he looked very impressive, and ready to return:

"His velocity was 92 to 95 [mph] and he pitched consistently at 93 to 94.  His cutter was 89 to 91.  He had great arm speed on his changeup.  He hit both sides of the plate consistently.  His mechanics were great.  The stuff across the board and command were excellent.  He looked like a big, strong, healthy starter ready to help."

After losing four-fifths of their starting rotation (Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, and Nova) in 2014, the Yankees rotation is healthy and thriving.  While they have felt along that a healthy Tanaka and Pineda could push them over the top in the AL East, manager Joe Girardi knows there’s still a lot of season left and things could change:

"There is no reason to get caught up in that because so much can change in 10 days."

Every team has used more than five starters in 2015, and the Yankees have used seven.  Nova could soon become the eighth, as he will throw a bullpen in New York with pitching coach Larry Rothschild watching.  Following the bullpen, he will start at Triple-A, which could be his last rehab start.

Girardi added that a six-man rotation is possible, and that starters could be given breaks, as they did with Pineda:

"Look, it is so hard to keep a rotation healthy, but obviously I hope Nova comes back and everyone else keeps pitching well and I have really tough decisions.  It means we will be in a better spot."

With a rotation full of starters with health risks (Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, and Nova), and inexperienced starters (Eovaldi and Warren), a six-man rotation could actually be a blessing in disguise, as it will allow Girardi to preserve his starters health for the remainder of the season.

Next: New York Yankees Editorial: Masahiro Tanaka the Ace the Yankees Need

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