Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia will start first two games of ALDS

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Following tonight’s optional workout at Progressive Field, Joe Girardi announced Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia will start Game One and Game Two of the ALDS, in that order. They did not announce the rotation beyond that.

Not much of a surprise Gray is starting Game One. He’d been lined up for that game for a little while now. Sabathia starting Game Two over Masahiro Tanaka seems to be based on home-road splits (and overall performance).

Sabathia at home: 4.20 ERA (4.54 FIP)
Sabathia on the road: 3.18 ERA (4.33 FIP)

Tanaka at home: 3.22 ERA (3.45 FIP)
Tanaka on the road: 6.48 ERA (5.35 FIP)

Luis Severino threw only 29 pitches in last night’s dud outing, and my guess is the Yankees did not announce their rotation beyond Game Two because they are considering using him in relief in Game One. If they need him in Game One — their bullpen will be short tomorrow — he won’t start until Game Four. If he isn’t need in Game One, then he’ll go in Game Three. We’ll see.

Gray will be opposed by Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, in Game One. Sabathia will face Kluber in Game Two. That’ll be all sorts of fun. Current Indians ace vs. former Indians ace.

Update (8:47pm ET): Girardi announced Tanaka will start Game Three and Severino will start Game Four. Severino is not a bullpen option in Game One, apparently. Hmmm.

Rotation shuffle confirms what we already knew: Luis Severino will start the Wild Card Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees shuffled their rotation under the guise of keeping CC Sabathia and his balky right knee off the turf in Toronto this coming weekend, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. Sabathia aggravated the knee and had to go on the disabled list the last time he pitched at Rogers Centre. The last thing the Yankees want this late in the season is an injured pitcher.

“We are trying to keep CC off that turf, yes. Is his knee okay? Yes. Are there concerns always about his knee? Yes. It won’t change his amount of starts, but it will keep him off the turf,” said Joe Girardi when announcing the rotation change following Saturday’s win. “Right now we are (Jaime) Garcia, CC, and (Masahiro) Tanaka (against the Twins this week).”

The rotation shuffle does two things. One, it keeps Sabathia away from the turf in Toronto. And two, it means Luis Severino will not start this week against the Twins, the team closest to the Yankees in the wildcard race. No player on the Twins has ever faced Severino (seriously), so Minnesota would be going into the Wild Card Game blind, should they and the Yankees qualify. Reading scouting reports and watching video only helps so much. There’s no substitute for standing in the box.

I’ve seen a few people mention the rotation shuffle lines Severino up to start the Wild Card Game, but that’s not really the case. He was already lined up for the Wild Card Game and the shuffle changes nothing. Here’s how the rotation would’ve lined up before the shuffle and how it lines up now:

Old Rotation Plan Current Rotation Plan
9/17 vs. Orioles Sabathia Gray
9/18 to 9/20 vs. Twins Gray-Tanaka-Severino Garcia-Sabathia-Tanaka
9/21 off-day
9/22 to 9/24 @ Blue Jays Montgomery-Sabathia-Gray Severino-Montgomery-Gray
9/25 vs. Royals Tanaka Garcia
9/26 to 9/28 vs. Rays Severino-Garcia-Montgomery Sabathia-Tanaka-Severino
9/29 to 10/1 vs. Blue Jays Sabathia-Gray-Tanaka Montgomery-Gray-Garcia
10/2 off-day
10/3 Wild Card Game Severino (two extra days) or Gray (one extra day) Tanaka (one extra day) or Severino (normal rest)

I would bet against Garcia making that start in the makeup game against the Royals next Monday. Thursday’s off-day allows the Yankees to start everyone on extra rest next week anyway, and, more importantly, skipping Garcia lines Severino up to pitch the Wild Card Game with an extra day of rest. And it’s not just about the extra rest. That extra day is also an insurance policy in case there’s a rainout or something. If the Yankees do skip Garcia next Monday, the Game 162 start could go to Domingo German or Bryan Mitchell, assuming the game is meaningless. If it’s a must-win situation, you run Tanaka out there on normal rest.

Anyway, the Yankees were originally going to skip Garcia this turn through the rotation, which would’ve allowed them to start their three best pitchers against the Twins this week. They were ready in case the wildcard race was closer than it is and this series really meant something. Instead, the Yankees increased their lead over the Twins the last few days, so this series isn’t as important as it looked a week ago. It’s important! But the race isn’t as close as it was, and it gives the Yankees some flexibility.

“We’re planning on Tanaka for Wednesday, but I could change my mind,” said Girardi yesterday, hedging a bit and indicating Severino could indeed start against the Twins this week. I suppose that depends how tonight and tomorrow go, but, worst case scenario, the Yankees will be one game up on the Twins for the first wildcard spot and 3.5 games up on Angels the for a wildcard spot in general come Thursday morning.

Right now the Twins are the team the Yankees are mostly likely to face in the Wild Card Game — for all intents and purposes it’s down to the Twins and Angels because everyone else has fallen further back — so hiding Severino makes sense. Let them go into the Wild Card Game blind. At the same time, if things go wrong the next two days, the Yankees can still run Severino out there Wednesday to stop the bleeding. They have some flexibility.

Shuffling the rotation this week is as much as about Severino as it is Sabathia’s knee. He was already lined up to start the Wild Card Game, or at least close enough to being lined up that the Yankees could’ve made it happen at pretty much any point. Now the Yankees have a chance to make sure the Twins don’t see Severino before the Wild Card Game while still having the ability to throw him at Minnesota this week, if necessary. It was a small little move that could potentially yield big dividends.

The Yankees need Aroldis Chapman closing down the stretch

(Steven Ryan/Getty)
(Steven Ryan/Getty)

Aroldis Chapman improbably pitched poorly enough this season to lose the closer job, but that doesn’t lessen his importance to the team.

His August was pretty dreadful as he allowed 14 baserunners and eight runs (three home runs) in eight innings, proving unreliable and forcing Joe Girardi to take him out of the closer’s role.

But after getting six days off after taking a loss on Aug. 25 vs. the Mariners, Chapman came back with a return to form starting with a low leverage outing against Boston on Sept. 1.

And now he’s back where he needs to be for the Yankees to be successful. You definitely don’t have to like Chapman, but he’s still essential to the Yankees’ postseason chances. While David Robertson and Dellin Betances can capably close, the team needs Chapman as their ninth inning man. Here’s why:

1. The contract: Let’s get this reason out of the way. In terms of the 2017 team, his contract is irrelevant. He’s a sunk cost and Girardi should go to his best relievers without worrying about the future.

But you can’t ignore the $68.8 million he’s owed after this season. With the Yankees aiming to get under the luxury tax, they need their top earners to play at a high level. Before Betances receives a raise via arbitration this winter, the Yankees will have $33.3 million tied up in their top three relievers.

They’ll have at least two openings in their rotation and trading either Robertson or Betances to both save money and fill a rotation spot would make some sense, although it’d be painful to trade one of those fan favorites. However, the front office can’t feel comfortable making that type of deal if Chapman continues to pitch like he did in August.

2. Weaponize the bullpen: Beyond Chapman’s contract, the return of something approximating his 2016 form would make the Yankees a deadly force this postseason.

Picture it: You can turn to Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game and feel comfortable going to the bullpen as early as the third or fourth inning, not that he would. Even without Adam Warren, Girardi can use Chad Green and get innings out of Robertson, Betances and Chapman in any one game, turning any early lead into wins with his cadre of relievers.

And with Severino teaming with Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka, the team has the ability to get relatively deep into games. That means Robertson and Betances can work as firemen and clear the way for Chapman. That’s certainly what Brian Cashman was dreaming up after the trade deadline. It just hasn’t worked out in the last 1.5 months because Chapman and now Betances have had rough patches.

How Chapman performs also could affect how Chad Green is used in the playoffs. He could be a caddy for the No. 4 starter, but he’s probably best used in the same way they’ve used him recently, taking early high leverage situations and then reeling off multiple innings. Warren can do this, too, but with him out, Green is the go-to first reliever out of the pen for any short outing.

If Chapman is August Chapman, that’s irrelevant. The Yankees then likely need Green as a late inning reliever, even with Tommy Kahnle in the pen, and Chasen Shreve could be the one coming in early this October. That’s not ideal.

Green (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Green (Patrick Smith/Getty)

3. Roster flexibility: Chapman in top form also enables the Yankees to carry more position players in a postseason series. Right now, the team appears set to go with 14 position players and 11 pitchers, adding Jordan Montgomery or someone like him as the long man in addition to all the names mentioned above. If Warren is out, then Shreve or Garcia could find their way onto the roster.

With Chapman pitching like he has this September (5.1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 10 K), the team can worry less about the last reliever on the roster and instead add a pinch runner like Tyler Wade or extra hitter in Tyler Austin, if not both.

The Bombers didn’t maintain much roster flexibility this season, often going with eight relievers. They should buck that trend for a series (Wild Card Game is a different animal), but you may need that 12th pitcher if one of your key cogs is unreliable, thus moving everyone up an inning.

4. Betances and Robertson as dual Andrew Millers: As they’ve proven plenty of times, both Betances and Robertson can close. It gets a little dicey at times with Betances and his 16.9 percent walk rate, but he tends to get the job done, recently outings notwithstanding.

This kind of piggybacks on point No. 2, but can you imagine how these two can be used if one isn’t tied to the ninth inning? Sure, it could end up being a traditional 7-8-9 of Robertson-Betances-Chapman, but Girardi has shown glimpses of a willingness to use his relievers more like Terry Francona has deployed his bullpen.

Take Monday and Wednesday for example: With his pitchers one out from a win, Girardi instead turned to two of his best relievers — Robertson and Green, respectively — to face Evan Longoria in a key situation. That’s not something we’ve seen all too often from Girardi and it’s a welcome sign.

The September roster expansion helped enable him to do that, but Chapman’s resurgence does as well. He’d do the Green move again for sure, but I feel Robertson would have been tied into later innings in a 5-1 game on Monday if Betances is the only other top reliever he trusts at the end.

While there won’t be an expanded roster in October, there will be enough off days to keep nearly everyone fresh. And that leaves Girardi to throw Robertson or Betances into any situation on any night. A flamethrowing and effective Chapman allows him to not worry about who he has left at the end. It also means he can pull either of his firemen if they’re ineffective as he did on Wednesday. Betances’ control problems are, therefore, less of a concern.

It’s tough to say which Chapman we’ll see next outing, let alone next month. Up until this April, he constituted just about the safest bet of any reliever, but that’s been thrown into question with his 3.71 ERA, multiple blown saves and lesser heat.

But if he continues to look more or less like a reliable reliever for the stretch run, even if he isn’t dominating quite the same, it’s worth keeping him in the closer role. And yes, you could go without a closer entirely, using any reliever in any situation, but the Yankees remain unlikely to eschew that tradition entirely. Assuming they don’t, Chapman is the man they need in the job if they’re going to make a run at a 28th title this fall.

The pros and cons of the upcoming six-man rotation

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

At the moment the Yankees have six viable big league starting pitchers for five rotation spots, which is pretty amazing considering the state of the rotation coming into the season. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia formed a solid yet fragile front three. The last two spots were very much up in the air. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery grabbed them and ran.

The Sonny Gray traded added another high-end arm and, if nothing else, the Jaime Garcia trade added depth. So, even after losing Pineda to Tommy John surgery, the Yankees are still six deep with starting pitchers in the season’s final month. And following tomorrow’s off-day, the Yankees plan to use all six starting pitchers. They’re going to a six-man rotation.

“You have a guy like (Severino) getting into an (innings total) he really hasn’t much passed. Sometimes it might help a Tanaka and it might help a CC so that is why we are doing it,” said Joe Girardi to George King and Pete Caldera last week. “… Some is the physical part of it, and we feel they might perform at a higher level on a sixth day.”

The Yankees will play 13 games in 13 days following tomorrow’s off-day, so they’ll be able to go two full turns through the six-man rotation. It’s September and rosters have expanded, so carrying six starting pitchers is no problem. Rolling with six starters and either a six-man bullpen (nope) or a three-man bench (yep) from April through August is where it gets tricky. That’s not the case now.

The six-man rotation comes with pros and cons like everything else. Or, really, it’s one big pro and one big con. The pro: giving pitchers rest late in the season. Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads are an obvious concern — Severino (169.1 innings) and Montgomery (142.2 innings) have both already eclipsed their previous career high workloads — and something the Yankees need to monitor. They have to protect those young arms.

The four veteran guys could probably use the rest too. Tanaka just spent ten days on the disabled list with what was essentially a dead arm, plus there’s the whole partially torn elbow ligament thing. Sabathia had a knee flare-up recently. Gray has had some injury issues the last 18 months and Garcia’s injury history is as ugly as it gets. All four of those guys could benefit from a little extra rest now and then. Everyone could.

As for the downside of the six-man rotation, the Yankees would potentially be taking starts away from their best pitchers and giving them to their worst. The postseason races, both the AL East and wildcards, are awfully close. Taking even one start away from Tanaka or Severino and giving it to Montgomery or Garcia hurts the team’s postseason chances, at least in theory. (Montgomery or Severino could always come out and throw a gem, I suppose.)

Generally speaking, starters perform better with extra rest, which would maybe mitigate some of that “getting fewer starts from your best pitchers” thing. Here are the numbers quick:

  • MLB average on normal rest: 4.55 ERA (4.35 FIP)
  • MLB average with an extra day of rest: 4.38 ERA (4.32 FIP)

There is such a thing as too much rest — the MLB average with two or more extra days of rest is 4.51 ERA (4.48 FIP) — and that’s something Girardi acknowledged. “I don’t want guys having seven days (between starts),” he said. The numbers suggest an extra day of rest could improve performance, but those are league averages culled from thousands of innings and hundreds of pitchers. Anything could happen in one individual game, or a handful of individual games in this case.

For the Yankees, using a six-man rotation seems more about controlling Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads, and giving the four veterans with injury histories a little breather late in the season. The Yankees could always call an audible depending on the postseason races. If things get too tight, they could scrap the six-man rotation and go with their five best. Here’s the possible rotation:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 6th at Orioles: Gray (on normal rest)
  • Thursday, Sept. 7th: off-day
  • Friday, Sept. 8th at Rangers: Tanaka (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Saturday, Sept. 9th at Rangers: Severino (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Sunday, Sept. 10th at Rangers: Garcia (on five extra days of rest)
  • Monday, Sept. 11th at Rays: Sabathia (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Tuesday, Sept. 12th at Rays: Gray (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Wednesday, Sept. 13th at Rays: Montgomery (on four extra days of rest)
  • Thursday, Sept. 14th to Sunday, Sept. 17th vs. Orioles: Tanaka, Severino, Garcia, Sabathia all with one extra day of rest
  • Monday, Sept. 18th to Wednesday, Sept. 20th vs. Twins: Gray, Montgomery, Tanaka all with one extra day of rest
  • Thursday, Sept. 21st: off-day

The Yankees have, essentially, skipped one Garcia start already when Montgomery got the ball Monday. That doesn’t mean he’ll sit around for nine days and do nothing between starts. He’s a veteran guy and knows what he needs to do to stay sharp. I’m sure he’ll throw extended bullpens and all that between starts.

Clearly, the Yankees are more concerned about Montgomery’s workload than the raw innings totals would lead you to believe. Only once in his last eight outings has he thrown more than 85 pitches. That was 92 pitches against the Indians last week. Five times in those eight outings he threw fewer than 80 pitches. The Yankees are trying to keep his workload down and that’s why I think they’ll essentially skip his next start.

A rainout tonight would throw a wrench into things, though the rotation outline above allows for some flexibility. That Twins series could end up being awfully important. If the wildcard race is tight, the Yankees could easily skip Montgomery entirely that series, and go with Tanaka and Severino on regular rest instead. We’ll see. Every so often I sketch out these possible rotation plans and they’re never right. Injuries and playoff races have a way of changing things.

For now, we know Girardi said the Yankees will use a six-man rotation following tomorrow’s off-day, which makes sense given the workload and injury concerns that exist. Extra rest this late in the season is good. But, at the same time, getting fewer starts from your top pitchers in the middle of a postseason race is not ideal. The Yankees very well might have to change their rotation plans if the race gets tighter in the coming days.

Jacoby Ellsbury is hot at exactly the right time for the Yankees

(David Maxwell/Getty)
(David Maxwell/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees won their third straight game and for the fourth time in their last five games, and they’re now 29-22 with a +42 run differential in the second half this season. True story. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but the Yankees have collectively played well since the All-Star break. It’s kept them in the AL East race and atop the wildcard standings.

Starlin Castro and the bullpen led the way in yesterday’s win, though the resurgent Jacoby Ellsbury played a big role as well, going 1-for-2 with two walks. He drove in the game-tying run with a single and also came around to score an insurance run later in the game. That comes after a big game against the Red Sox and Chris Sale, in which Ellsbury went 3-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base, and saw 22 pitches in four plate appearances.

The overall numbers are still not great. Ellsbury is hitting .254/.335/.394 (95 wRC+) in 318 plate appearances this year which, when combined with his defense, makes him maybe a league average player. He missed time with a concussion and was also benched in favor of Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier (and I suppose Brett Gardner) for long stretches of time. And it wasn’t undeserved. Ellsbury has not played well most of the season.

Right now though, Ellsbury is in the middle of a hot streak that has seen him go 11-for-26 (.423) with two doubles, one triple, one homer, three walks, and only one strikeout in his last nine games. He’s started seven of the last ten games and the Yankees have needed him to. Hicks is back on the disabled list and Aaron Judge needed to sit out a few days last week, either for a mental break or to let his shoulder heal or both.

There’s never a bad time for a hot streak, but Ellsbury’s comes at an especially good time because Hicks and Frazier are both hurt, and because Judge still hasn’t completely snapped out of his second half slump. Judge has looked a bit better the last two days, and that’s encouraging, though it’s not nearly enough to declare him fixed. The fourth outfielder is Tyler Wade right now, so yeah. Ellsbury is going to play and play a lot.

The easy narrative here is getting demoted to the bottom of the order and later benched has lit a fire under Ellsbury. He’s playing with a big chip on his shoulder and taking it out on the baseball. And it absolutely could be true. Ellsbury, to his credit, took the lineup demotion and later the benching like a total pro. He never complained publicly and he did whatever the Yankees asked, including pinch-run late in several close games.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Ellsbury wasn’t irked by the demotion, of course. He should be upset. You want a player to be upset when he’s removed from the lineup for performance reasons. Ellsbury, like every other player, is a competitor and he wants to be in the lineup every single day. Now he’s back in the lineup and performing well. We’ve seen Ellsbury get hot in the past. When he gets hot, he gets really hot and can carry a team.

Frazier will begin a minor league rehab assignment tomorrow and the Yankees hope Hicks can begin swinging a bat within ten days, so help is on the way and that’s good. Until they return, Ellsbury is going to play, and the Yankees need him to produce because they’re trying to chase down the Red Sox in the AL East and trying to fend off basically half the AL in the wildcard race. The Yankees are, for all intents and purposes, playing playoff games right now.

Ellsbury is not going to validate his entire seven-year control in this final month. That is the wrong way to look at it. He could help make up for what has generally been an underwhelming season to date, however, and help push the Yankees into the postseason. Ellsbury has talent. That’s part of what makes his play so frustrating. He can be so much better than he has been. Ellsbury is clicking right now though, and it’s not a moment too late for the Yankees.

Recent elbow MRI yet another red flag for Aroldis Chapman

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

August is almost over and roster expansion is right around the corner, and at this point, it is completely clear the Yankees can not trust Aroldis Chapman in high-leverage situations. After giving Chapman the largest reliever contract in history over the winter, the Yankees have received 38.1 innings with a 4.23 ERA (3.08 FIP) in return, and have had to demote him out of the closer’s role. What a mess.

As you know, this isn’t simply a case of Chapman running into some bad luck with more bloops falling in and balls sneaking into the short porch for cheap Yankee Stadium homers. He looks basically nothing like the dominating Aroldis Chapman of the past six years. And it’s only getting worse. His swing-and-miss rate:

aroldis-chapman-swings-and-misses

Poor performance is one thing. Poor performance and injuries are another. Chapman missed roughly a month with shoulder inflammation earlier this year, and according to George King, Aroldis went for an MRI on his elbow Sunday. The MRI came back clean and Chapman was available to pitch Monday — “There was a little bit of discomfort. It was precautionary and they decided to do a test … It’s 100% fine,” he said to King — but still. Shoulder and elbow scares in year one of a five-year contract? Yikes.

Everyone is trying to figure out what’s wrong with Chapman and no one has the answer, not even the Yankees. They’re still searching. I don’t buy the “he’s getting hit harder because hitters are used to seeing 100 mph now” excuse for a second. How ridiculous is that? Luis Severino has no trouble throwing 98-99 mph heaters by hitters. Dellin Betances is still getting swings and misses with his fastball. I’ve heard a lot of silly baseball theories over the years. That one might be the silliest.

Last week Zach Kram, based on release point data and things like that, surmised Chapman might be pitching hurt. Maybe not hurt in the sense that he’s in pain and gutting through it. Hurt in that he’s not right physically even if there’s no real pain. It could be due to an underlying injury, or fatigue, or a World Series hangover, or general wear and tear. From Kram:

Throwing from a slightly lower arm slot, with a slightly more exaggerated elbow angle, is not per se an indicator of injury, and normally it could be attributed to a minor mechanical blip, the likes of which fellow Yankee—and new closer—Dellin Betances experienced earlier this summer. But combined with Chapman’s recent injury history, it represents a more serious sign of concern. In the book Complete Conditioning for Baseball, collegiate strength and conditioning coach Steve Tamborra writes, “There is no ideal angle between the arm and the head during the throwing motion, but pitchers tend to lower their angle when protecting a weak or injured shoulder.”

This is still just an observation, and it’s impossible to link it explicitly to Chapman’s struggles—again, his aggregate velocity and location are doing just fine, and both Chapman and Girardi contend that the lefty isn’t hurt. But it’s a new Chapman, and it’s a worse Chapman, so it’s reasonable to suppose that some connection exists.

Here’s the thing though: Chapman’s velocity and location are not doing just fine. There’s no way to measure location — Kram uses Chapman’s career high 54.3% zone rate as evidence his location is fine, which is dubious — but having watched him pitch all year, Chapman never hits his spot. He’s always been wild — that career 11.5% walk rate isn’t an accident — and this year it’s become more extreme. It seems like Aroldis has no real idea where the ball is going.

As for the velocity, the radar gun readings in general are fine. Chapman is averaging 100.1 mph with his fastball this season, which is down from 101.1 mph last year, but is right in line with the rest of his career. Now look at the fastball perceived velocity:

  • 2015: 100.8 mph (+0.7 mph from average)
  • 2016: 101.6 mph (+0.5 mph from average)
  • 2017: 100.4 mph (+0.3 mph from average)

Perceived velocity tells us how fast the pitch looks to the hitter when factoring in the pitcher’s extension and things like that. Chapman is a big guy, he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs., so he’s releasing the ball a little closer to the plate than the average hurler. For whatever reason though, his perceived velocity “gain” has been trending down.

In the grand scheme of things, losing 0.2 mph of perceived velocity from one year to the next might not be such a big deal, though the overall trend is disconcerting, and it’s one of those things that could be compounding Chapman’s issues. The lower release point and more exaggerated elbow angle (per Kram) combined with slightly lower velocity and shoulder and elbow woes is … unsettling. If not outright bad.

At this point, the hope is Chapman will get over whatever’s ailing him and contribute these final five weeks of the regular season and postseason. That’s the only way he can salvage what has been a pretty terrible first full season with the Yankees. And hopefully this recent elbow problem really is nothing, even if it might explain a whole lot.

How much do the Yankees need to limit Jordan Montgomery’s workload anyway?

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last week the Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery down to Triple-A for one specific reason: to control his workload. Jon Morosi reported Montgomery would pitch on seven days rest going forward and have his innings capped within his starts. Five innings seems to be the organizational standard. It’s easier to manipulate a pitcher’s workload like that in Triple-A than MLB.

“We are going to shorten some outings down there just to cut back a little bit,” said Joe Girardi to George King last week, after Montgomery was sent down. “We do have somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings, where he would be? There was no innings set, but the number was about 180 and the innings are always more stressful here.”

Plans change, of course. The Yankees lost both CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka to injuries last week, so they had to call Montgomery back up to fill out the rotation. The plan to control his workload had to be put on hold because the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and their pitchers keep getting hurt. Winning is the priority. Once Tanaka and Sabathia return, the Yankees will be in better position to cut back on Montgomery’s innings.

Here’s the thing though: how much do the Yankees really need to cut back on Montgomery’s workload? Obviously they know him better than we outsiders, so if they believe they need to take it easy on him the last few weeks of the season, I’m not going to doubt them. I’m more or less thinking out loud right now. Here are Montgomery’s innings totals over the years:

  • 2014: 107.2 innings (college and minors)
  • 2015: 134.1 innings (minors)
  • 2016: 152 innings (minors)
  • 2017: 126 innings and counting (minors and MLB)

Nice, steady progression. Montgomery is a very big and very durable guy — he’s never missed a start, not in high school or college or pro ball — and the Yankees want to keep it that way, so they’re not going to put him at risk of injury through overwork this year.

Now, that all said, let’s do the math here quick. Montgomery started Sunday night, in the 116th game of the season. If he were to start every fifth game from here on out, he’d make nine starts the rest of the season. If he were to average six innings in those nine starts, he’d finish the season at 180 innings on the nose, which is the cap the Yankees seem to have set for him. Convenient! A few things:

1. 180 innings is not a hard cap. The Yankees did not come out and say Montgomery will be limited to 180 innings this year. Girardi said there is “somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings where he would be,” meaning would he be running on fumes and at risk of injury? I’m surprised Girardi threw out that 180 innings number, to be honest. The Yankees have steered clear of revealing workload limits the last few years because there’s nothing good that can come from it. Point is, things are going to be touch and go. The Yankees might want to get to Montgomery to 180 innings, but if he hits a wall at 160, he hits a wall at 160.

2. Averaging six innings per start isn’t easy. My little back of the envelope calculation has Montgomery getting to 180 innings by averaging six innings per start in his final nine starts of the season. Averaging six innings per start is hard! He’s averaging 5.50 innings per start now. Only ten times in 22 starts has Montgomery completed six full innings. The AL average is 5.58 innings per start. Sixty-five pitchers have made at least 20 starts this year and only 28 of them are averaging six innings per start. There’s some wiggle room in my little “six innings per start for nine starts” assumption.

3. What about the postseason, dummy? The Yankees have not played well the last few weeks overall, but they are still in postseason position and very much in the race. Heck, they’re still in the division race. It might not seem like it, but they are within striking distance (4.5 games back) with seven head-to-head games to go against the Red Sox. It’s doable. Unlikely, but doable. The Yankees have a lot to play for these final seven weeks.

Two things about the postseason and Montgomery’s workload. One, the Yankees have to actually get to the postseason before this is a problem. Can’t put the cart before the horse. If the Yankees need to max out Montgomery’s workload to get to the postseason and he’s not available for the playoffs, so be it. And two, I think the Yankees would take the reins off in October and let him pitch no matter what, as long as he’s still effective. Flags fly forever.

* *

On paper, it seems Montgomery’s workload might not be that big of an issue down the stretch. If the target is 180 innings, he figures to have innings to spare even if he starts every fifth game from here on out. The caveat here is that Montgomery might show signs of fatigue (i.e. ineffectiveness) before reaching 180 innings, and he might be completely unavailable for the postseason should the Yankees qualify. The Yankees will deal with that when the time comes.

As much as we and the Yankees are focused on the here and now, this is all about the future. Montgomery looks like a keeper and the Yankees want to keep him healthy and productive. Young mid-rotation starters are awfully valuable. Guys with Montgomery’s numbers will cost you about $15M a year in free agency. His health and workload will have to be monitored as we approach the end of the season, though right now, it’s entirely possible any restrictions might now be much of a factor after all.