For the past few weeks the Yankees have played with a short bench. Because they’ve used six pitchers in the starting rotation, and since they haven’t shortened the bullpen at all, they’re working with 12 position players and 13 pitchers. Normally they go with 13 position players, giving them a four-man bench, and 12 pitchers, giving them a seven-man bullpen. That won’t last much longer. When Alex Rodriguez returns they’ll have to alter the pitching staff, but with Freddy Garcia’s injury that could get a little tricky. Here’s how it all could work.
The goal for Garcia, as Joe Girardi has stated, is for him to pitch Saturday against the Twins. Yet that’s no guarantee. He threw a bullpen session yesterday, but it comprised only sliders and fastballs. The Yankees won’t let him pitch unless he can grip his splitter, and they’re right to do that. Per FanGraphs’ pitch type values, Garcia’s cutter has easily been his most effective pitch this season, at 1.15 runs above average per 100 pitches. he also throws it more than 20 percent of the time, so he needs that weapon. The decision on what to do with Garcia will play into the roster decision.
Scenario 1: DL Garcia when A-Rod returns
There remains a decent chance that the Yankees place Garcia on the DL, just to gain a temporary reprieve. They’ll have to make a move with the pitching staff when Alex returns, since they can’t do anything with the bench. Placing Garcia on the DL, retroactive to August 8th, would give them an easy opening, and would allow the bullpen to stay at full strength through the current road trip. Garcia would be eligible to come off the DL on August 23rd, which would line him up to start the first game of the home series against the A’s.
Following him would be Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia against the A’s, leaving Phil Hughes to start the opener in Baltimore. A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova would then take the doubleheader, giving Freddy the Sunday start. That would also get everyone back on turn, so the Yankees could pare down the rotation to five at that point, moving either Nova, Hughes, or Burnett to the bullpen, bringing it back to seven men.
Scenario 2: Option a reliever when A-Rod returns
If Garcia can go on Saturday, then the Yankees have a different issue on their hands. They’ll maintain the six-man rotation, which they essentially have to do through the doubleheader, anyway, but will play with a short bullpen for a week. That’s not the end of the world; the team can survive with an 11-man pitching staff. But it’s unfamiliar territory, and the Yankees will have to play through it until Sunday the 28th.
This scenario would have Burnett’s next start pushed back to Sunday, leaving Nova to open the series against the A’s. The schedule breaks down in a similar manner from there, with Colon and Sabathia finishing the A’s series and Hughes opening the Orioles series. Garcia and Burnett would take the doubleheader, with Nova pitching on Sunday. After that they could decide what to do with the rotation situation, but they’d have to make a quick decision, since the bullpen will be short until they move a starter there.
Scenario 3: Mixing it up
Here are just four of many possible ways the Yankees could handle the rotation in the coming weeks. Clearly, the first two involve no DL stint for Garcia, while the other two do.
After playing a man short on the bench for almost a month, the Yankees will play with a man short in the bullpen for at least a week, perhaps a week and a half. There’s no avoiding it, considering the doubleheader on Saturday (meaning the need for that sixth starter on Sunday as well). That’s why I prefer to DL Garcia. Not only does it give his finger time to fully heal, but it means the Yankees will spend less time with a short bullpen. It essentially moves Garcia back just two games, which at this point in the season, with the Yankees commanding a sizable lead in the playoff race, makes little difference. If it helps them get through the coming weeks with further issues, why not just do it?