Yankees Rotation Battle Will Be Settled By Armed Conflict
Yankees spring training will end as it began, with the team trying to choose their fourth and fifth starters. By Thursday night, the fight will be over and the rotation set. But we might be able to guess the ending if we can just figure out the clues the Yankees have already given.
The Yankees have had a great spring. The parade of prospects mostly proved able to play at the big league level. The offense, led by the troika of Sanchez-Bird-Holliday, should be one of the best in the American League, with reinforcements coming during the season in the form of Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier.
But the pitching remains a question. Masahiro Tanaka looks better than ever while Michael Pineda looks as inconsistent as ever. CC Sabathia had a poor spring, but veterans like CC usually get a pass on their spring training numbers. Still, his 6.75 ERA and WHIP of 2.00 provide some concern.
The best pitcher over the next two days ostensibly will become the fifth starter and the loser will go to Scranton and hope bad things happen to one of the Yankees pitchers.
It’s what makes the battle for the fourth and fifth spots more important than those of most years. Teams that are serious about contending, as the Yankees keep insisting they are, usually enter camp with the first three spots in the rotation locked down.
While Tanaka is clearly ready to repeat his performance from last year as Ace of the Staff, Pineda and CC do not look like a two, and three; more like a four and five. That means the Yankees need one of the prospects to be a front-line starter. He doesn’t have to dominate, but he cannot lose three out of his first four starts and put up an ERA above 4.00.
For instance, whomever the Yankees tab as the fourth starter will have to pitch against the Orioles hard-hitting line-up on April 7th. The pitcher chosen as the fifth starter will go against either the Cardinals or the White Sox in mid-April. Neither starter, fourth or fifth, needs to throw a shutout in those games but he cannot give up six runs in the first two innings, either.
Four of a Kind
So it comes down to these four: Chad Green, Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, and Jordan Montgomery. Everyone else has either been sent down or sent to the pen. Joe Girardi has made it clear that the decision comes down to this final week and that the next two starts will decide it.
"“I want to see us go through this turn before we make our decision,” Girardi said. “Unfortunately the turn doesn’t really end until Thursday.”"
Montgomery will go Wednesday night against the Blue Jays, while Severino goes Thursday against the Phillies. If the Yankees have been honest, the rotation battle will be decided in these two starts.
But how can all four men be evaluated by only two of them pitching? There is a vague notion hinted at that Green and Mitchell will get some relief innings to make their case, but that is hardly putting them on an equal footing.
Yankees Provide a Clue
Why the disparity? The answer lies in the clues, as it always does. The hard part is deciphering the clues to arrive at the correct secret meaning. For instance, the Yankees might have already decided that Severino and Montgomery will be the final two starters and this week will determine who is fourth, and who fifth.
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This idea was bolstered during the interview Brian Cashman gave to Suzyn Waldman over an inning and a half during last Saturday’s game. Cash was unequivocal in declaring that both Montgomery and Severino are, and will remain, starters. If either or both lose out on a starting job, he will join Scranton’s rotation.
The clues could also add up to either Green or Mitchell already being the fourth starter, and these two starts are for the fifth starter’s position only. This also makes a lot of sense. Mitchell proved he was a starter last year, both in camp (0.57 ERA) and in his scant few starts (3.24). His ERA in this year’s camp is high at 4.57, but he has struck out 22 in his 21 innings.
Girardi, like most managers, wants some surety and big league experience; Mitchell gives him both. It is most likely that the Yankees have already decided Mitchell starts in early April. Green’s ERA looks great (1.50), but his WHIP is not that much lower than Mitchell’s (1.25/1.34). His performance last year—4.73 ERA in 8 starts—and limited upside put him at Scranton as soon-to-be-needed insurance.
Must See TV
This would mean that the next two nights are the last rounds in the fight for one spot. And that makes them the most important games of spring training for Yankees and Yankees fans.
Severino’s spring has been a microcosm of his two years in the Bronx. He has pitched like a future ace at times and like someone destined for the bullpen at others. But his last appearance was his best. He was brought in to pitch the final three innings on Friday night against the Phillies.
Being scheduled to come in at the end of the game signaled his downward spiraling hopes.
But then he went out and threw up zeros for three innings. No hits, no walks, no runs; nothing. He did fill up one column: strikeouts. The helpless Phils whiffed five times in those three innings. It certainly revitalized his bid to start no later than mid-April.
An Emerging Talent
Montgomery, meanwhile, has given the Yankees hope that he might be The One. The Yankees
Hoped one of their pitching prospects would pitch well enough in camp to force their hand. But none of the biggest names immediately shined in their starts; James Kaprielian was not even allowed to compete.
But slowly Jordan Montgomery emerged. He did not get any early spring training starts but, instead, had to impress out of the pen; he did. On March 17th he pitched four innings in relief and put up those same zeros as Severino.
That earned him a start last Thursday against most of the Ray’s starting line-up. And again he delivered. He pitched into the fifth inning and gave up two earned runs. Montgomery struck out 8 and walked no one. When he was done his ERA for the camp was 3.68, and his WHIP was 0.82.
For reference, a WHIP of one is considered elite for starting pitchers. Max Scherzer and Kyle Hendricks had the best WHIPs last year and were the only two starters with numbers below one (0.968 and 0.979, respectively).
His biggest advantage is that he is the only lefty of the four candidates. His height and extreme downward motion on his delivery look like powerful weapons, as much as his fastball/slider/changeup combination. If he can go out and show the same poise, control, and overpowering stuff as last time, he might be pitching for the Yankees in a couple of weeks.
Yankees Keep us Guessing
Of the two, the latter sounds like the most likely scenario. While Severino and Montgomery have greater upsides, Mitchell did enough to show he is the same pitcher they saw in last year’s camp and gives the Yankees some continuity and security. The best pitcher over the next two days ostensibly will become the fifth starter and the loser will go to Scranton and hope bad things happen to one of the Yankees pitchers.
That makes it all the more disappointing that Wednesday’s game will not be telecast locally. At least Yankees fans can see Thursday’s game when it is broadcast Friday morning from 6-9 am on the MLB network.
Yankees Sanchez And Bird Form Mutual Admiration Society
But Bird and Sanchez must have seen it, even back in 2014, and thought about playing together in Yankees uniforms. Now those dreams have become reality.
But the only person who needs to see these games is Joe Girardi, and he will not need a tv for that. When the last pitch is thrown on Thursday, he will have seen enough to know who will start for the 2017 New York Yankees and who for the RailRiders.
And maybe who will be traded for Jose Quintana.