Archive for Pitching

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

On Sunday, Masahiro Tanaka will get back on the mound and pitch in the big league game for the first time since the week before the All-Star break. It will be the biggest step in his rehab from a partially torn elbow ligament, and, really, the best case scenario is seeing that the ligament won’t blow out the instant is it subjected to a game action stress level. It’s either going to blow out or not blow out, but even if it doesn’t, there is no guarantee it will stay intact going forward.

No matter what, Tanaka will head into next season as a big health question mark. The Yankees have to go into the offseason assuming the worst — that the elbow will give out at some point relatively soon — and act accordingly, meaning bringing in plenty of pitching depth. In fact, just about every big league caliber starter in the organization will carry uncertain health into next season if Hiroki Kuroda does not return. To wit:

  • CC Sabathia is coming off knee surgery after there were concerns he may need a career-threatening microfracture procedure.
  • Ivan Nova had Tommy John surgery on April 29th and the best case rehab scenario has him back on a big league mound in late-April 2015.
  • Michael Pineda is healthy right now but missed more than three months this year with a muscle problem in his back/shoulder. That’s on top of the shoulder surgery that cost him 2011-12.
  • David Phelps just missed a month with elbow inflammation after missing more than two months with a pair of forearm strains in the second half last year. He’s yet to show he can handle a full season’s workload.

And then there’s Tanaka’s elbow on top of all of that. We already know Nova will not be ready come Opening Day and the recent rash of pitchers who have had complications coming back from Tommy John surgery — with the last 14 months Daniel Hudson, Cory Luebke, and Jonny Venters all needed a second Tommy John procedure before completing the rehab from their first surgery — is a reminder that Tommy John is not fullproof. Several doctors, most notably Dr. James Andrews, have said the 12-month rehab may be too aggressive, so the Yankees might take is slow with Nova.

No one really knows what to expect out of Sabathia going forward, so at this point the safest bets to be healthy at the start of next season are Pineda and Phelps, and that is kinda scary because neither of them is all that durable. As I’ve said before, I think the Yankees need to focus on adding depth and multiple pieces to strengthen the roster for top to bottom this offseason. Adding one star caliber pitcher like Max Scherzer or Jon Lester will certainly help, but in the end those guys only fill one of five rotation spots while the other four remain questionable.

Priority number one this winter will clearly be improving the offense. It has to be. The patchwork rotation has done a fine job filling in this year but many of the rotation injuries are going to carry over to next year. In a perfect world I’d like to see Pineda and Phelps penciled in as the fifth and sixth starter again, respectively, but at the moment they are the team’s two healthiest starters under contract (or team control, really) for next year. Bringing in a starter to replace Kuroda this winter is the bare minimum. The Yankees have a lot of injury risks in the rotation and the offseason is the time to add some protection.

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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Given the number of pitching injuries they suffered this season, the Yankees should have been out of the postseason race a long time ago. I mean out out. At one point five of the organization’s six best starting pitchers were on the disabled list and right now three of their top four Opening Day rotation members are still out with injuries. The Masahiro Tanaka injury the week before the All-Star break should have been the final straw. It should have been over after that.

Instead, Brian Cashman & Co. have cobbled together a five-man rotation that not only prevented the Yankees from falling apart, but has actually improved upon what the team was getting out of their starters earlier in the season. The rotation had a 4.10 ERA (3.92 FIP) before Tanaka got hurt and they have a 3.39 ERA (3.26 FIP) since. That’s remarkable. A notable trade (Brandon McCarthy), a scrap heap pickup (Chris Capuano), a timely call-up (Shane Greene), and a return to health (Michael Pineda) have kept the club afloat. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild deserves a lot of credit.

The Yankees figure to be in the market for pitching help this winter because they and every other team look for pitching help every winter. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how much pitching a team already has or how bad the offensive environment is around the league, teams will always look for more arms. In the case of the Yankees, they’ll be bringing back three injury risk starters next season in Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), and CC Sabathia (knee). Greene and David Phelps provide some depth, but the need for some rotation protection is obvious.

The upcoming free agent pitching class is top heavy thanks to Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields, three inarguably excellent pitchers who come with their own unique sets of pluses and minuses. All three will require pretty massive contracts — Shields is likely to get the smallest deal of the three and I have a hard time believing he’ll sign for fewer than four or five years at this point — and in the case of Scherzer and Shields, forfeiting first round draft picks as well. They’re worth it though. Those three guys are legitimate top of the rotation arms.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

The Yankees are already paying Sabathia and Tanaka top of the rotation dollars and, unless they up payroll substantially next year, fitting another $20M+ per year starter doesn’t seem doable without skimping on offense. They have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $215M range in six of the last seven years, and Cot’s says they already have $168.8M committed to only ten players next season. Considering how their offense has been below-average for two straight years now, fixing it should be the top priority this winter.

This season showed the Yankees are capable of building a quality rotation with smaller moves and lower profile pickups. Would they be a better team with Scherzer or Lester? Absolutely. But I think the focus has to be on adding depth this winter, not one big star player. Given all those risky starters under contract, the Yankees should focus on adding two or even three starters this offseason. The alternative to spending, say, $25M annually on Lester could be spending $20M combined on two of McCarthy, Jason Hammel, and the reclamation projects that are Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson, giving the club more options and keeping the contract lengths short.

Now, those are just a bunch of names I’m throwing out there and I’m an idiot. Who knows what it will take to sign those guys in reality or if any of them will want to come pitch in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have shown they are adept at not only identifying starting pitchers who are better than what they’ve shown recently, but also getting more out of them then expected. It’s not a one-time thing either. They’ve done it with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and even Hiroki Kuroda in recent years. That’s a valuable skill they can use to their advantage. (The fact that no one can hit anymore works in their favor as well.)

The Yankees are still the Yankees and they’re always going to be in the mix for big name free agents. That’s what they do. Lester in particular is very tempting as an AL East proven workhorse left-handed ace with big market chops, and I fully expect the team to be all in on him this winter. But, as I said the other day, I think the Yankees are where they are right now because of their unwavering reliance on long-term, big money contracts. I think their ability to dig up quality starters out of seemingly nowhere is incredibly valuable and would allow them go to a different route this winter, eschewing yet another long-term pitching contract in favor of shorter term deals that add depth and flexibility.

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(Duane Burleson/Getty)

(Duane Burleson/Getty)

The story of last night’s win over David Price and the Tigers will be the nine consecutive hits in the third inning and rightfully so, but, just as importantly, rookie right-hander Shane Greene had another solid start and continues to solidify his place in the rotation going forward. I mean, nine straight hits is cool and all, but it’s an anomaly. Greene pitching well has become the norm.

Greene’s performance against the Tigers was particularly impressive because he was facing them for the second time. It was the first time a team got a second look at him as a starter. He threw eight scoreless innings against Detroit three weeks ago and followed that up with seven innings of two-run ball last night. Chase Whitley‘s second turn through the league was a disaster — the Blue Jays, the first team to face him a second time, pounded him for eight runs on eleven hits and three walks in 3.1 innings the second time around. It was good to see Greene more than hold his own against a team somewhat familiar with him.

The Yankees have now won six of their last seven games and eight of their last eleven games overall. Greene’s outing continued a stretch of strong starting pitching from the makeshift rotation — the Yankees are on what, their eighth through 12th starters at this point? I’ve lost count — that has kept the team afloat during their offensive struggles. Here is what the rotation has done since August 16th, the start of this eleven-game stretch (via Baseball Musings):.

NYY rotation 8-16 to 8-27

The table does not include Greene’s strong start against the Tigers last night — I didn’t have time to wait for the Baseball Musings database to update, so sue me — which was his third excellent outing during this eleven-game stretch. Include him and the rotation has a 3.36 ERA (2.69 FIP) with a 5.50 K/BB in 69.2 innings during these eleven games. Stretches like this explain why the rotation has a 3.82 ERA (3.75 FIP) this summer despite all the injuries.

The only real terrible start in the table above is Brandon McCarthy‘s outing on Tuesday, when he clearly didn’t have his usual command and ability to locate. He walked two batters and a hit a guy in the second inning alone. He never does that in a full start, nevermind one inning. Pitchers have off nights once in a while and that was one for McCarthy. The bullpen (specifically Adam Warren) deserves some level of blame for allowing two inherited runs to score during Chris Capuano‘s start against the Astros, the other eyesore in the table.

Otherwise the Yankees have been getting strong start after strong start during his eleven-game stretch. And, really, it dates back even further than that. The team has been getting strong starting pitching for several weeks now, but the offense has failed to hold up to its end of the bargain most nights. These last few offensive explosions — you do realize the Yankees scored 16 runs in 14.2 innings against Chris Sale, James Shields, and David Price these last few days, right? — have been nice but they are hardly he norm for this club.

The Yankees don’t win if they get anything less than a strong outing from their starter. They aren’t capable of winning high-scoring games consistently and may the baseball gods have mercy on their soul if the bullpen is any worse than dominant on a given night. In this low-scoring day and age, it all starts with pitching, and the Yankees have been getting lots of it from everywhere imaginable. Scrap heap pickups, trades, big money free agents, you name it and they’ve helped out.

These eleven games have helped the Yankees climb back into the wildcard race — they’re 2.5 games back and FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 13.8%, so they still have a ton of ground to make up — and they’ve had a chance to win just about every game because of the rotation work. This season could have (and, depending on who you ask, should have) been sunk once the regular rotation members started going down with injury. Guys like Greene, McCarthy, and Capuano have picked up the slack, and it has been especially evident during this recent surge.

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Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are “strongly considering” using a six-man rotation in September and are at least “talking about” doing the same next year, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Brian Cashman confirmed. “No doubt, you have to see how all the pieces fit, but I think it is something you have to take a look at,” said Rothschild.

There are several good reasons for employing a six-man rotation once rosters expand in September and I’m for it. Doing it next season is a different matter. The Yankees will have four starters with varying levels of injury concern in Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), CC Sabathia (knee), and Ivan Nova (elbow), and giving them extra rest makes sense, but how do they pull that off? Do they go with a six-man bullpen/four-man bench or seven-man bullpen/three-man bench? Everything they’ve done with their roster the last few years points to the latter. Do it in September, sure, but they’d need to figure some stuff out before doing it in 2015.

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(Greg Fiume/Getty)

(Greg Fiume/Getty)

The Yankees have struggled to piece together a decent rotation for much of the season. At one point arguably the five best starting pitchers in the organization were on the disabled list, and for a big chunk of the summer they were without CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and Ivan Nova (elbow). Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) went down right before the All-Star break. Pineda has since returned but the other guys are all still on shelf and only Tanaka has a chance of returning before the end of the season.

Finding five quality starters has been a struggle at times, though the Yankees have a decent group right now. Pineda joins young Shane Greene and veterans Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, and Chris Capuano in the rotation, which isn’t the most intimidating fivesome in the league, but they’ve been no worse than solid these last few weeks. It would be nice if they pitched a little deeper in the game once in a while — Greene is the workhorse at this point, no? — but what can you do? Take what you can get. Those guys done more than any of us could have reasonable expected, really.

Rosters expand in only ten days now, at which point the Yankees will surely call up some extra players to help out in the final month of the season. Extra arms like Bryan Mitchell, Matt Daley, and (if healthy) Preston Claiborne will be back, and they may be joined by Manny Banuelos as well. Jacob Lindgren or Tyler Webb could replace Rich Hill, though that’s not adding another pitcher to the roster. Once rosters expand and the Yankees have extra bodies lying around, it actually makes sense to implement a six-man rotation for the final month of the regular season. Here are some reasons.

Control Workloads
Fatigue is always a concern this late in the season, especially for young pitchers and older pitchers. Kuroda has faded late in each of the last few seasons — he’s again showing signs of fading this year — and scaling back on his workload these last five weeks wouldn’t be a bad idea. I know Kuroda is likely in his final few weeks with the team, but he’s been a damn good Yankee these last three years and you take care of your people. He gave the club everything he had and they should reciprocate by taking it easy on him in September even if he won’t wear their uniform in 2014.

The 25-year-old Greene is actually in great shape with his innings total. In fact, he might not throw enough innings this season. He is at 109.2 innings total right now (MLB and Triple-A) after throwing 154.1 innings last season, the most in the farm system. The final weeks of the season probably get him up to 150 or so for the year. Ideally you’d like to see him get up to 170-180 innings this year, but still, we’re talking about a guy who was in High-A and Double-A last year. Major League innings are a different animal. They’re more intense and take more out of you. The raw innings total only tells you so much. Easing Greene towards those 150-ish innings is in no way a bad idea.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Injury Concerns
Needless to say, the rotation is still loaded with injury concerns. Pineda has made two starts after missing more than three months with a back/shoulder issue, and he didn’t even get stretched all the way during his rehab assignment. Given his injury history, taking it easy on him these last few weeks makes an awful lot of sense. Same goes for McCarthy, who has been healthy this year but has a long history of shoulder problems. If the Yankees intend to try to re-sign him after the season — and they should absolutely try to bring him back — then they have every reason to do whatever they can to keep him healthy in September.

And then there’s Tanaka, who threw his second bullpen session yesterday as he works his way back from a partially torn elbow ligament. Everything is going well so far — he even threw some breaking balls and splitters yesterday — so much so that he might face hitters in live batting practice for his next throwing session. The hope is Tanaka will return in September to make a few starts, and if he does, using a six-man rotation would be a fine way to take it easy on that elbow. They were trying to get him extra rest whenever they could before he got hurt. There’s no reason that should change once he returns, right?

Busy Schedule
The Yankees will play their final 38 games of the season in only 39 days. They do have two off-days (September 1st and 8th) but also one doubleheader (September 12th). They close the season out with 21 games in 20 days. There will be no opportunity to give the rotation an extra day of rest here or there the last three weeks of the season — at least not without more rainouts, which would only lead to more doubleheaders — so playing it safe with guys like Greene and Tanaka and Pineda will be tough. The six-man rotation would give everyone an extra day of rest each time through the rotation automatically. They won’t have the opportunity to give them that otherwise.

* * *

Though the Yankees are bringing David Phelps back from his elbow injury as a reliever, they’ll still have Mitchell and Esmil Rogers as sixth starter candidates until Tanaka returns. Maybe even Banuelos, if he’s physically up to it after missing close to two full seasons. That would be fun. Expanded rosters in September ensure there will be plenty of extra arms available in case someone gets knocked out early or anything like that. There’s no worry about overworking the bullpen.

Let’s face it, the team’s postseason odds are tiny — 4.3% according to FanGraphs and 3.1% according to Baseball Prospectus — so it really doesn’t matter who they run out there as the sixth starter. The important thing is getting guys like Tanaka and Pineda extra rest down the stretch, not winning every last ballgame. A six-man rotation isn’t all that practical before September, but it’s plenty easy to implement once rosters expand and winning is a secondary concern. It makes a lot of sense for the Yankees to use six starters in the season’s final month given the injury and workload issues on the roster.

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David Phelps will return to the Yankees as a reliever when healthy, Joe Girardi confirmed. Phelps is currently working his way back from elbow inflammation and is two or three weeks from being activated off the disabled list, assuming no setbacks. Whatevs.

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(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Since joining the rotation a little more than a month ago, Shane Greene has been arguably the Yankees’ best starting pitcher. The rookie right-hander has a 2.93 ERA (3.25 FIP) with good strikeout (21.4%) and excellent ground ball (55.3%) rates in seven starts and 43 innings, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down either. He’s made it very easy to forget his ugly five batter, three walk MLB debut out of the bullpen back in April.

The Yankees called on Greene last month because they really had no other choice. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda were all hurt and Chase Whitley was crashing back to Earth. That was before Masahiro Tanaka went down too. Greene had mediocre Triple-A numbers overall (4.61 ERA and 3.41 FIP) but he had strung together a few strong starts, which was enough to get him a shot given the state of the rotation. He’s obviously taken advantage of the opportunity.

Greene’s path to the big leagues and pro ball in general was a rather unique, which makes his story and success that much more interesting and amazing. I’m going to save some time and quote myself from last winter’s prospect profile:

Greene was a mop-up man [at the University of West Florida] as a freshman … He blew out his elbow late in the season and had Tommy John surgery in May 2008 … The Argos took his scholarship away following the injury, so Greene transferred to Daytona Beach Community College. He didn’t pitch as a sophomore and wasn’t on the draft radar at all. Greene was throwing a bullpen session at his high school when he asked a Yankees scout (who was there to see someone else) to watch him throw and put in a good word with the University of Central Florida. The team ended up bringing him to Tampa for a workout three weeks before the 2009 draft … The Yankees liked what they saw during the workout enough to select him in the 15th round (465th overall) even though he had not pitched in an actual game in over a year.

Even if he crashes back to Earth in his next start or never throws another MLB pitch for whatever reason, the Yankees have already gotten a huge return on their investment in Greene. We’re talking about a late round pick who signed for only $100k, a relative pittance. Just getting a guy like that to the show — especially after drafting him even though he hadn’t pitched in a real game in a year due to injury — is a huge success.

Greene’s climb up the minor league ladder was not fast. He spent parts of two seasons with both Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, and it wasn’t until his sixth pro season that he reached Triple-A despite being a college draftee. Greene’s stuff improved as he got further away from elbow reconstruction but a general lack of control held him back. He had a 4.4 BB/9 (10.4 BB%) across two Single-A levels in 2011, then a 5.1 BB/9 (12.5 BB%) at High-A in 2012. Greene looked like a classic big arm, small command guy.

Then, last season, the now 25-year old Greene broke out with a 1.7 BB/9 (4.5 BB%) split between High-A and Double-A. Forget about cutting his walk rate in half, he cut it by almost two-thirds in an offseason. This year Greene has a 3.5 BB/9 (8.8 BB%) in Triple-A and a 2.9 BB/9 (7.7 BB%) in MLB. (The AL average is 2.9 BB/9 and 7.7 BB% this year, coincidentally.) That’s not as good as last year but it’s a major improvement from two or three years ago. That ability to harness his stuff and throw consistent strikes has taken Greene from interesting prospect to bonafide MLB rotation member.

There is no “the light bulb just came on” story here. Greene didn’t magically wake up one day with the ability to throw strikes with his mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider. He cut his walk rate so much last year thanks to mechanical tweaks implemented by some of the Yankees’ minor league pitching gurus. George King (subs. req’d) explained last September:

Greene, 24, is armed with a 90-94 mph fastball, but it was an adjustment he made working with pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and Greg Pavlick, a senior pitching instructor, that helped him turn the corner.

“He was helped with the delivery where he kept his head more in line with the plate,” (VP of Baseball Ops Mark) Newman said. “He made a commitment to throw strikes and not throw the ball to the edge and nibble.”

Pavlick has been with the Yankees for more than a decade now, but Patterson is a relatively new hire. Well, a new old hire. He coached in the team’s minor league system from 2005-07 before leaving in 2008 for a similar position with the Athletics. The Yankees brought the very highly-regarded Patterson back and hired him away from Oakland in November 2012.

The club has gotten a lot of heat for their unproductive farm system over the last year or so, so much so that they essentially audited their staff and policies and implemented some procedural changes over the winter. In reality, the changes started both with the re-hiring of Patterson as well as the firing of long-time pitching honcho Billy Connors in September 2012. No personnel changes were made last winter, but two pretty big ones were made the year before.

There is no possible way of knowing how Greene would have developed without the help of Patterson (and Pavlick) — would he have made those same mechanical adjustments and improved his command anyway? Would he have never figured it out? Would he have done something else entirely and become even better than he is right now? We’ll never know. The timeline fits so wonderfully though. The Yankees bring back Patterson, he tinkers with the live-armed Greene, and suddenly he throws strikes and is awesome. It’s a great story, especially if it’s actually true.

Many fans, myself included, were underwhelmed and unhappy when the Yankees announced they were only making procedural changes to their player development system over the winter. After all, we don’t know what those changes are and we can’t actually see him at work, so they don’t really exist to us. The Patterson move flew mostly under the radar for the same reason: we don’t actually see him at work. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an impact though. He helped Greene clean up his delivery and get over some serious control problems, which has turned him into an important member of the MLB rotation. Every time he takes the mound, it is the organization’s recent player development changes at work.

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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The silver lining to last night’s loss to the Orioles was the return of Michael Pineda, who looked like the April version of himself in his first start off the disabled list. At least until he ran out of gas in the fifth inning, though that had more to do with making only two rehab starts and not getting full stretched out than anything. Pineda was nails in the first four innings, locating his fastball to both sides of his plate and throwing his slider for both called strikes and off the plate for swings and misses.

The Yankees are still kinda sorta in the race for the postseason spot — a wildcard spot, to be specific — and the Pineda we saw last night will be a huge help the rest of the way, assuming he gets fully stretched out in time. The patchwork rotation really has done an admirable job of keeping the team alive, but the Yankees have not had a starter who can go out and shut another team down every fifth day since Masahiro Tanaka got hurt. Pineda is that type of pitcher.

Getting Pineda back will help improve their slim postseason chances (7.6% according to Baseball Prospectus), but, more importantly, it gives the Yankees a chance to evaluate the right-hander heading into next season. The 2015 rotation is completely up in the air at this point thanks to the Tanaka and CC Sabathia injuries. Even if those two get healthy in time for Spring Training, there really is no way of knowing what they can provide next year. Ivan Nova will also be out until at least late-April/early-May following Tommy John surgery, if not longer.

That all makes Pineda ian integral part of the Yankees going forward despite his lack of health these last few years. In a perfect world someone like Pineda, a super talented reclamation project/lottery ticket pitcher with injury problems, would be a guy you want to fill out the back of the rotation. Not someone you have to count on. But, unless the Yankees are planning to spend huge in free agency (Jon Lester and/or Max Scherzer?) or making some big trades (Cole Hamels and/or Ian Kennedy?), that’s exactly what Pineda will be.

These next six weeks or so will finally give the Yankees a chance to see what Pineda can do as a member of their rotation making a regular start. At least hopefully. We have no real reason to expect him to stay healthy other than blind faith at this point. Hopefully he stays healthy, takes the ball every fifth day, impresses, and leaves everyone feeling good going into 2015. If Pineda can help the Yankees get into the postseason along the way, even better. Falling short of Octboer would not be unexpected though.

On a personal level, I feel Pineda Fatigue™ starting to set in. I’m getting tired of waiting for this guy to get healthy and contribute. This is his third year in pinstripes already, and he’s made five starts. I understand that pitchers get hurt and he had major shoulder surgery, but at some point you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution, and we still don’t know where Pineda falls. He’s looked great when he’s actually on the mound, no doubt about it. But he’s no good to the team if he continues to get hurt constantly. Seeing him stay on the field the rest of the season would be a refreshing change.

Outside of getting Tanaka back in September, the best thing for the future of the Yankees would be Pineda staying healthy and showing he can be an effective starter these next few weeks. He’s a potential impact player, something the team lacks at the upper levels of the minors. They just don’t know if he can stay healthy over the course of a full season yet. Well, no, they know he can’t. Nevermind. These next few weeks will show if Pineda can stay healthy for even six weeks at a time, and whether there is any reason to be optimistic about him being a member of the 2015 rotation.

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Michael Pineda will be activated off the disabled list and return to the rotation on Wednesday, the Yankees announced. That’s what I was hoping for. Esmil Rogers will presumably move back into the bullpen after making a spot start last Friday.

Pineda, who has only made four starts this year, has been out since late-April with a muscle problem in his back/shoulder. If he pitches anything like he did earlier in the year (1.83 ERA and 2.73 FIP), he’ll be an enormous shot in the arm for the rotation and team in general.

Categories : Asides, Injuries, Pitching
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Trolley Frogs! (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Trolley Frogs! (Scranton Times-Tribune)

At some point in the next day or two, the Yankees will officially announce whether Esmil Rogers or Michael Pineda will start Wednesday’s series finale against the Orioles. Rogers pitched very well in a spot start on Friday, giving the team five innings of one-run ball on a limited pitch count, but it’s obvious he’s just keeping the spot warm for Pineda, who made his second minor league rehab start that same night. He threw 72 pitches in that rehab game.

“We haven’t made a decision. A lot depends on what happens the next few days,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin when asked about Pineda possibly rejoining the rotation this week. “Ideally you’d like to get him to 90 pitches … We’ll talk to the people who saw him and decide what’s next. You have to make sure the player is ready.”

Naturally, Pineda feels ready to come off the disabled list because just about every player thinks they’re healthy and ready to return to the team after a rehab outing or two. “Everything is there. The velocity is there. I’m feeling good. I’m happy with that,” he said to Brian Heyman the other day. Pineda has allowed one run on nine hits and one walk in 7.2 rehab innings, striking out eleven, so statistically the rehab assignment has gone well.

Girardi indicated the decision to bring Pineda back could depend as much on the shape of the bullpen as it does how he feels. The Yankees aren’t getting much length out of their starters in general and Rogers could be used in long relief as soon as Tuesday, according to the skipper. “The bullpen has been used a lot. Sometimes plans change,” said Girardi to Martin. If Rogers is needed to bail out Shane Greene tomorrow, Pineda would start Wednesday by default.

At this point though, I think it’s time for the Yankees to bring Pineda back regardless of his pitch count in his most recent rehab start. If the team doesn’t feel he is where he needs to be with his pitches, that his fastball command isn’t all the way back or he doesn’t have feel for his slider yet, that’s different. Pineda can’t be effective without fastball command or feel of his slider. If he needs another rehab start to get that stuff back, so be it. Then he’ll have to make another start with Triple-A Scranton.

But, if we’re talking only about a matter of pitch count, being stretched out to throw 85 pitches vs. 100 pitches, then I don’t think there’s much to consider here. In that case the Yankees should absolutely bring Pineda back this week, upgrade their rotation, and simply keep an eye on his pitch count until he is fully stretched out. Rogers did very well in his spot start but nothing in his track record suggests we should expect more of the same going forward. Pineda limited to 85 pitches or whatever is still better than maybe any other pitcher on the staff at this point. It’s not like he threw 45 pitches last time out. He’s stretched out enough to give the team the same five innings as Rogers.

The Yankees head into this series with the Orioles six games back in the AL East, though they are only 2.5 games back of the second wildcard spot. The division isn’t completely off the table at this point but it sure does seem like a long shot. The wildcard is still very much up for grabs though, there’s just a ton of competition. The Blue Jays, Royals, and Mariners are all right there with the Yankees, so every little upgrade is huge. Brian Cashman‘s been talking about incremental upgrades these last few weeks, and, well, Pineda is an upgrade over Rogers, even if he’s only out there for 85 pitches on Wednesday.

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