Prior to the start of last night’s Yankees-Tigers game, Joe Girardi made official what Joe mentioned at 4:30 yesterday: Sergio Mitre would be called up to the Bronx on Tuesday and will start against the Orioles in his Yankee debut. Mitre, 28 and a right-hander, will be making his first start since Sept. 15, 2007. He missed all of the 2008 season with Tommy John surgery.
For the Yankees, the need to turn to Mitre comes out of a variety of circumstances. At the top of that list is, of course, Chien-Ming Wang’s woefully bad 2009. When Wang injured his foot last June, no one knew it would mark a downward spiral for the two-time 19-game winner. In fits and starts this year, Wang is 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA, and he is out indefinitely with a right shoulder strain.
Beyond Wang, the Yanks had two other pitchers ahead of Mitre on their depth charts. Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves were slotted to be the sixth and seventh starters respectively, but then the bullpen happened. Hughes, as we all know, had been pitching decently in the starting rotation in place of Wang in May, but when the Yanks activated the sinker-ball specialist in late May, Hughes was bounced from the rotation.
Instead of sending Hughes back to the minors to work on his innings, though, the Yanks decided to slot him into a bullpen role. Hughes, who no longer was challenged by AAA hitters, has more than exceeded expectations as a set-up man, and last night’s two-inning, six-strike out performance solidified his role as the Bridge to Mariano. At the same time, though, the Yankees have limited Hughes’ innings, and he isn’t prepared to jump back into the starting rotation.
Aceves’ path is a similar one. A starter at AAA to start the season, Aceves was summoned to the Bronx when it was clear that the Yanks needed a long reliever. He made one spot start — against the Twins before the break — but has been far better as a swing man in the pen. There, he is 5-1 with a 2.02 in 40 innings spanning 21 games. As Joe LaPointe reported, the Yanks know Hughes and Aceves are better options than Mitre. These two, however, are not really stretched out, and the team is very hesitant to mess with bullpen success.
So Mitre it will be. The Yanks signed Mitre for depth over the off-season, and now, it is depth they need. Never much of a heralded prospect, Mitre is 10-23 with a 5.36 ERA over 310.2 innings spanning parts of five seasons for the Cubs and Marlins. With a K/9 IP of just 5.4, he doesn’t strike out many hitters, but he has decent ground ball numbers.
The Yankees have to hope they can catch lightening in a bottle with Mitre. He has earned wins in back-to-back starts just three times in his career and is simply an arm right now. With Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte scuffling lately, the Yanks’ pitching depth and the team’s 2009 success is resting on what Mitre can do for a handful of starts. My fingers are crossed.