What to do with the fifth starter spot?By
Once Chien-Ming Wang left yesterday’s game in the sixth after pointing to his shoulder, this post was inevitable. The Yanks will have a few decisions to make in the next few days. They’ll need a spot starter this Thursday in Minnesota, but then won’t need him again until July 21st. So what will the Yanks do to plug this hole both short- and long-term?
The Yanks will go the rest and rehab route with Wang, and Girardi said he expects him to be back this season. The feeling around the clubhouse is that Wang could be back in a month or so. Even so, the Yanks will need at least four appearances from a fifth starter: this Thursday, then three times after the All-Star break before they have another off-day.
Phil Hughes is the obvious choices, as the Yanks bumped him from the rotation for Wang in the first place. But if being stretched out is a concern for the Yanks, it would appear Alfredo Aceves would be the man for Thursday. He and Tomko are the only Yanks bullpen arms who have gone multiple innings with any regularity, and there’s no chance Tomko gets the start.
After yesterday’s game, Joe Girardi said of Aceves and Hughes: “They’re not in a position where you could run them out for 90 or 100 pitches.” He said Aceves could likely go 50 to 60, and Hughes 45-50. Again, the Yankees would have a chance to stretch out either one for the July 21st start, but may be reluctant to do so for Thursday’s.
One interesting name is Sergio Mitre. He’s been rehabbing and working back from Tommy John surgery down in Scranton, and has pitched fairly well this year. He’s only been at about 80 pitches, so he’s not totally stretched out either. But he’s further along than Hughes and Aceves, so the Yanks could opt to add him to the 40-man roster (placing Xavier Nady on the 60-day DL) and give him the spot start.
Here’s the wild card in this: How long will the Yanks keep Wang on the DL? He might be ready to return in a month, but the Yanks will want to play this one cautiously. They have an opportunity to make sure everything is back to normal before returning him to the majors, a process they seemingly botched earlier in the year. If the plan is to take their time with Wang, Hughes should be the guy. He’s the sixth starter, and if someone goes out for a prolonged period, he’s the guy.
What the Yanks could do, and I’d prefer this, is to recall Mitre tomorrow as a bullpen arm. Start Hughes on Thursday, knowing he can’t go long; Aceves and Mitre will be around for backup. Then option Hughes the next day so he can get a start in the minors. It would probably have to be Trenton, since Scranton’s All-Star game is the same week as the MLB one. That would probably put him at 80-90 pitches for the start on the 21st against the Orioles.
As they did with Joba, many Yankees fans are falling in love with Hughes in the bullpen. It’s hard not to. He’s been lights out since making the transition. But if the team doesn’t have good starters, a good bullpen is kind of moot. Why would they put an inferior pitcher in the rotation? Oftentimes, when there’s a poor starter on the mound, the bullpen doesn’t have a lead to protect.
In the end, I believe the Yankees will opt to keep Hughes in the bullpen and start an inferior pitcher in Wang’s place. They’ll have their own justification for it, and I hope it works out. It very well could. From a strategic standpoint, though, it’s not the most sound decision. But if Mitre or Aceves comes through, they’ll look like geniuses.