An early glimpse at a rotation raceBy
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.