An early glimpse at a rotation race

Yanks ink 20-year-old Dominican hurler
Mailbag: Chavez, Nunez, Martin, Hall of Famers

Once upon a time, Yogi Berra once said of left field in Yankee Stadium that “it gets late early out there.” He was talking about the sun conditions in the outfield, but it stuck. Thirteen games into the Grapefruit League, though, it’s still early. Yet, with Opening Day looming at the end of the month, the Yanks have some rotation decisions to make.

As we well know, the Yanks are trying the kitchen sink approach to the rotation. Left high and dry when Andy Pettitte called it a career and Cliff Lee left for the museums and subways of Philadelphia, the Bombers reeled int Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to go with Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova. The idea, as many have noted, is to somehow produce enough starts from the four of them to make the offense and bullpen do its thing. If a top-flight starter hits the market in late June or early July, so much the better.

As the early days of Spring Training melt away, it’s easy to ignore results. When Justin Maxwell and Melky Mesa are playing out half of the Yanks’ games, the final scores matter little, and the process is what informs the club. Still, as the innings start to mount, we can check in on the four starters fighting for two spots.

Leading the innings charge so far is Grapefruit Opening Day starter Bartolo Colon. The Yankees seem willing to give him as many chances as possible to fail, and while he’s pitched “the worst” of the bunch, his stuff and approach have been sound. In nine innings, he’s allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk. He is, in fact, the only one of the bunch to give up a walk, but he has responded with 12 strike outs. More importantly, he hasn’t been afraid to attack the zone. The fastball velocity isn’t where it once was, but for now, he’s been confident going after hitters.

Right behind him has been Freddy Garcia. The presumptive fourth starter has made two outings and has thrown 5 innings with a bunch of zeroes. He struck out three and gave up two hits with nothing else. There’s not much left to say about Garcia. He made 28 reasonably fine starts last year and has come out competing this spring. As “intangibles” as that sounds, he ought to make the rotation.

The other two guys — Nova and Mitre — have looked good as well. Both have thrown five innings spanning two games while giving up nary a run. Nova has K’d two while Mitre has four strike outs. As much as you can judge a bunch of pitchers through five innings, everyone has impressed.

Now, the Yankees don’t expect these guys to continue this top-flight pitching. After all, the Yanks are looking for a fourth and fifth starter and not a pair of aces. But based on what we’ve seen so far, I have no reason to believe the team’s plans have changed.

Although Colon has seemingly expressed a willingness to pitch in long relief, he and Garcia are the presumptive starters. They both have veteran experience and both can elect free agency if not chosen for the Yanks’ roster out of Spring Training. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi can’t burn their pitching depth before April, and the folks after Nova and Mitre on the depth charts aren’t quite ready for regular Major League action. Early on, the script is playing out as written.

Yanks ink 20-year-old Dominican hurler
Mailbag: Chavez, Nunez, Martin, Hall of Famers
  • Jerkface

    I’m wondering if they should ditch Mitre and go with Colon, Nova, and Garcia as a combination of 4/5/long man. But I’d be reluctant to do that based purely on spring training for Colon. His 2-seamer has looked pretty good, despite the results coming against the pirates and some AAAA red sox guys.

  • Manimal

    Pitch the vet’s until they implode, theres no harm in doing it.

    • MannyGeee


      A good month or two of Colon and Freddy is worth the $2M they are going to command. MItre/Nova/BrackenStein to give us a solid 4/5 until the obligitory mid-season overpay trade…

      • Dale Mohorcic

        Agree. No reason not to ride the vets while seasoning the younger guys and letting the trade market develop. It’s worth the cost to see if there’s 3 months of bartolo the hutt and Freddy Garcia at a 4-4.5 FIP. Anything else you get is gravy.

  • josh

    I agree. If these guys show that they are, at the very least, capable of keeping us in the game threw the first five innings, let it ride. The offense and bullpen should be able to keep the Yanks in those games.

    Everyone wants to sound all gloom and doom when it will be us and philly in the end and we’re holding the broom.
    /bad late night poetry’d

  • Cuso

    You can’t operate with the assumption of a Colon/Garcia/Nova mix. Why? Because under that assumption, Colon & Garcia are starting out in the rotation (otherwise they’d opt out….they really gonna stay on as a long-man?). they need to stretch Nova out. if he’s not in the rotation, he’s gonna be in the AAA rotation. yes injuries “may” play a role at some point. But not before the decision on Garcia or Colon has to be made.

    • Plank

      Probably and unwritten baseball rule against this, but if the Yankees put them on the big league club and decide to use Garcia and Colon as the longman in the pen, they can’t say no. They can retire, but they can’t just break the contract they signed. They don’t get to determine their position.

    • Ted Nelson

      I don’t know who is operating with that assumption. I think most people assume if those two are starting Nova will be in AAA as to not lose Mitre. However, long-men are “stretched out.” Their whole role is to go multiple innings and make spot starts when needed. If they feel it’s in their best interest the Yankees absolutely could have Nova as their long-man/swing-man.

      They could retire, but if they make the team I don’t think Garcia or Colon has the option of opting out because they don’t agree with their role on the team (i.e. potentially pitching in relief).

  • Jeff Levy

    I’d have no problem starting Nova in the AAA rotation. I want to know he can pitch past the 5th inning before handing him a rotation spot. I wouldn’t mind seeing what Mitre can do. He’s been good as times, but never got a fair shot in the past. I especially intrigued by Colon having 12 K’s in 9 IP even if it’s against minor leaguers. It seems like Garcia has a spot locked up since he has the strongest track record of success in the majors and the AL.

    • Brian in NH

      Yeah..but those AAA guys aren’t big leaguers. MLB guys will figure a pitcher out quickly if a pitcher is rather one dimensional. AAA teams might have one or two guys that can make that adjustment in a game. MLB teams likely have at least 9 who can. Yanks alone have the starting 9 plus Chavez, Montero, and Posada who can do this.

      • Total Dominication

        Posada is in the starting 9.

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for

      You won’t know if Nova can get past the 5th in the ML by having him pitch in AAA.

  • Mickey Scheister

    Rock em’ in the 4th & 5th spots till their arms fall off. Use Mitre as long relief and have Nova start in AAA. WHEN one of the starters goes down, call up Nova or Brackman as the number 5. I do not expect Colon to stay healthly all year, no one should. Bada-Bing, Bada-Boom.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      colon comeback player of the year. im calling it

      • I Voted 4 Kodos

        With all the “it’s only spring training” caveats considered, Colon’s stuff has actually looked pretty good so far. I can see him giving the Yanks decent innings for as long as his body holds up. I can easily see him sucking too, but there is some reason for optimism with him.

    • Big Apple

      agree. if they get 10-12 starts out of Colon, that’s a success. baby steps for the fat man..

      many joke about him, including me, but wathing him this spring – he knows how to pitch.

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for

        Wathing is one letter off from both watching, and washing, which, ewww.

        • Big Apple

          I write with a lisp

          • Big Apple

            actually…I write with a lithsp

  • Big Apple

    If Burnett pitches like he’s supposed to and Hughes improves from last year no one will worry too much about the 4th and 5th spots.

  • kosmo

    If Colon and Garcia show they still can get MLB hitters out and Nova proves he belongs ,then Mitre will be jettisoned. Letting Mitre go is no worse then DFA Chad Gaudin.Sooner or later Mitre is toast.If called upon I believe Colon could pitch out of the pen.The only way Mitre keeps a spot is if Colon or Nova bomb bigtime.

    • pete

      The only way Mitre keeps a spot is if Colon or Nova bomb bigtime.

      yeah, that’s a totally unrealistic scenario…

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    I think we all know what Mitre is and what he will be, a long releiver and spot starter at best. Nothing wrong with sending Nova to Scranton to start the season and getting him stretched out and sharpening his pitches more. I also like what I’ve seen from Noesi and Warren so far and they are not far away form hleping at the major league level. have not been as impressed with Phelps though. All in all, no need to rush the killer Bs, especially Banuelos and Betances.

  • Big Apple

    a lot of people are down on Mitre, but that spot starter/long releif guy is essential. And he’s done ok in that role.

    • pete

      It will be essential for the yankees this year, I think. It isn’t always essential. Somehow I don’t think the Phillies are going to be getting a ton of mop-up innings this year.

      • Big Apple

        All of the Phils problems will be in their lineup.

      • Ted Nelson

        It can be essential for any team. The Phillies, for example, are an injury away from needing that guy to start every 5th day. Ramiro Mendoza was pretty valuable in that role in years where the Yankees had a better rotation 1-5.

        • camilo Gerardo

          Who cares about the phillies?

          • Ted Nelson

            The comment I was responding to specifically said “Somehow I don’t think the Phillies are going to be getting a ton of mop-up innings this year.”

    • kosmo

      All of 54 innings in 2010.

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for

        Well that’s 6 games from one pov. In a tight division that’s a lot.

        I’m going to be lazy and remember without checking that Mendoza was important in this role, and that the team was better with success in that role.

        • Ted Nelson

          Mitre is not Mendoza, though. Not to overhype him, but Mendoza was throwing over 100 innings per season for four of five seasons and his career ERA was a run lower than Mitre’s.

          Certainly a team will be better with success in any role than without it, but Mitre is not guaranteed to succeed in any role. He seriously outperformed his FIP last season after underperforming it on his career, and had a .226 BABIP with a career average of .312. Even if he has improved he’s still due for a regression. Nova may already be an upgrade, and if not one of Phelps, Noesi, Brackman, Mitchell, Warren, Romulo, etc. probably is.

      • Big Apple

        that’s just mitre’s IP…others, like Gaudin also played this role. Guys miss starts..get bombed early…you need a guy that can go in there and give a few innings so the back end of the bullpen doesn’t get overworked.

        Ramiro Mendoza and Aceves played this role and were key pieces of the rotation

        • Ted Nelson

          I don’t know what kosmo’s point is, but it may be that Mitre is not essential even if that role is. Mitre made all of 3 starts in 2010 and is easily replaceable. The fact that the Yankees let Dustin Moseley start over Mitre last season tells you as much.

          • kosmo

            Actually very well put ! Mitre is not essential to the role of longman ,spot starter.He is indeed very replaceable.

            • Big Apple

              very replaceable but I guess he’s more of a known entity than other options. and with younger guys it gives them more time to develop in the minors.

    • Ted Nelson

      I don’t know if Mitre is necessarily any better in that role than Nova, a AAA guy, or some guy off the street. Small sample, but Mitre’s ERA has been 7 and 6 as a starter the past two seasons. His career ERA is over 5. He seriously out-performed his FIP last season, which is not a trend in his career. I don’t mind having him, but I’m also not going to lose any sleep over him leaving. The Yankees can certainly upgrade in that role and pretty easily find a replacement Mitre.

      • Big Apple

        agree…having Mitre in that role allows the youngsters to get a little more time in the minors…same is true for colon and garcia.

        let’s all hope that AJ pitches well and we can stop worrying so much about these other guys.

  • pete

    If we can get through May with Garcia/Colon (and Mitre as the often-used long-man), then we’ll be gravy, since the parade of quality back-end options in AAA (or even AA later on if we’re lucky) can start to fling its collective self at the wall.

  • Charles

    I see the rotation going as this:
    1. Sabathia
    2. Hughes
    3. Burnett
    4. Garcia
    5. Nova

    I remember reading that Colon is willing to work in Long Relief, so this way I think everyone wins. If someone goes down (which WILL happen eventually) we have a guy waiting right there in Colon. The only question here is what happens to Mitre? He did throw fairly well down the stretch last year (I think a ~3.30 ERA after the break) and we all know how much Girardi loves the kid.

  • Ac

    Nova has options to be sent yo AAA. I think your better off going with Colon n Garcia. Keep Nova in rotation at AAA call him up if injury or Colon turns out to be a fraud. It’s about having depth. Mitre might be out if options so he’s your long man. If you hand Nova 5th spot you lose Colon period he isn’t going to AAA he has an out clause. If Nova flames out now you have nobody to call up.

  • camilo Gerardo

    i think having colon in the bp sets a bad precedent for Joba


  • http://riverave.blues james kent

    garcia and colon with mitre in long relief/swingman w/nova waiting in the wings for 1 of them to falter is safest bet…..colon can pitch long r. and mitre could be put in a trade pkg