When the Yankees announced on Saturday that Javier Vazquez would be skipped this week and also available to pitch out of the bullpen, fans and analysts grew concerned. Were the Yankees about to pull a Carlos Zambrano with one of their starters just a few days after he seemingly had turned a corner in Detroit? Were the Yankees being too cautious with Javy as the Red Sox come to town? For a team not known for handling its pitchers, the Vazquez move appeared to be another subject to numerous second guesses.
Javy fans had good reason to be concerned as Joe Girardi explained the Yankees’ organizational thinking. “We might have to put Javy in the bullpen for a couple of days,” Girardi said. “Javy will probably have to pitch out of the bullpen for us the next couple of days, until we can get everything right.”
If everything doesn’t go right, rotation-wise, the Yanks may turn to Sergio Mitre again, a far inferior option to Vazquez. The Yanks, though, sound willing to call upon Vazquez out of the pen if one of their starters falter over the next four games. “You’ve got to worry about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, before we can worry about Friday,” Girardi said. “We want him to start on Friday is the bottom line, but sometimes, you have unforeseen circumstances that you cannot predict are going to happen.”
Ken Davidoff called this move an “acknowledgement that Vazquez clearly ranks fifth in the Yankees’ pecking order.” That is an obvious charge and one the Yanks would probably admit off the record, but the team has a better rationale for this move. Joel Sherman explains the “secondary reason” and “tactical advantages” for reshuffling the rotation:
If Vazquez started [Monday] and the other starters stayed in line then CC Sabathia would pitch Wednesday against the Rays and Tuesday in Minnesota. Instead, he now will pitch Tuesday against Boston and that will enable him to start Sunday night against the Mets. And the Yanks see that as wise since the game is at Citi Field, there will be no DH and Sabathia is one of the best hitting pitchers in the majors.
In addition, if Vazquez started tomorrow, then Andy Pettitte would have opened the Mets series on Friday night. That would have meant his next two starts after that would have been against Minnesota and Baltimore. But if Pettitte starts Thursday against the Rays – as he is now scheduled – then his next two starts will be against the Twins and Indians, both heavily lefty-swinging teams.
The Yanks wanted to make sure that both Sabathia and Pettitte started against the Indians, who rely on lefty swingers Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Russell Branyan and Travis Hafner. Cleveland began Sunday with a .215 batting average against lefties and a .576 OPS.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Yankees are thinking ahead and projected their rotation. Furthermore, the move makes sense from Vazquez’s perspective as well. In his career against the Red Sox, he is 2-7 with a 4.23 ERA and his peripherals — 10.0 K/9 IP and a 3.48 K/BB ratio in 66 innings — are better than the won-loss record. A closer examination though reveals that Vazquez struggles against the current iteration of the Red Sox. Granted, we should take batter/pitcher numbers with a grain of salt, but active Red Sox have hit .298/.346/.519 against Vazquez. Although the current Mets have hit him hard as well (.309/.362/.459 with Gary Matthews, Alex Cora and Luis Castillo leading the charge), the Yankees prefer to start Javier in spacious CitiField.
With somewhat conflicting accounts — one from Girardi that talks of the pen and one from Sherman’s anonymously-sourced story supported by Vazquez’s career — Javier Vazquez is left twisting in the wind. But the Yankees still seem to consider him a rotation candidate. They’ve liked what they’ve seen from Sergio Mitre but know that Vazquez, when on, is a far superior pitcher. The leash with him will be short, but this reshuffled rotation is in no way an indictment of Vazquez. As long as he builds on his Detroit success, the Yanks’ pitching gurus should be pleased.