The spring checklist is all but complete. The team has decided on the batting order, the fifth starter, the bullpen, and the fifth outfielder. Last on the agenda is of when Phil Hughes will make his 2010 debut. The Yankees do not need a fifth starter until April 17, so they could have sent him to AAA to start the season, giving him a few starts before he’s called to action. That won’t be the case, though. Yesterday the team announced that Hughes will start April 15 against the Angels, picking up the fifth spot on the second turn through the rotation.
Hughes won’t sit idly by, nor will he pitch out of the bullpen, during the season’s first 11 days. Instead he’ll pitch in two extended spring training games, one on April 5 and the other on April 10. As the name extended spring training implies, these will just be further tune-ups for Hughes. They’ll allow him to stay in shape without actually getting into a game. They also will not count against Hughes’s innings cap for the season, which is probably the draw of doing EST rather than minor leauge games. Furthermore, the Yankees need not use his one remaining option.
Here’s how the rotation will break down through Hughes’s first start:
Unless there’s a non-Opening Day rainout, Pettitte will pitch the home opener on April 13. Slotting Hughes on the 15th not only makes sense in terms of his spot in the rotation (though rotation position hardly matters after the first turn through), but it gives the starters ample rest throughout the rest of the month. Here’s how April finishes:
All but two starts come with five days’ rest, which fits with the Yankees’ plan to keep their guys rested after the long 2009 season and short off-season. It also means Hughes will pitch just three times in April, so by month’s end he’ll probably have somewhere between 15 and 20 innings. If his innings limit sits somewhere around 170, this gives him 150 or so innings for the season’s final five months. If he stays healthy, the Yankees might be able to manage that by giving him a long rest during the All-Star break and maybe skipping a start here and there later in the season. In other words, it should be much more manageable than Joba Chamberlain‘s situation in 2009.
The extra help should help the Yankees get through a packed May, too. Of the month’s 31 days, the Yankees will play on 29 — including a Memorial Day Matinee at home against the Indians. Essentially, this means that the staff will be on mostly five days’ rest through April before hitting the normal four days’ come May. Sounds like a plan to me.