Sorting out the Sabathia & Pettitte-less rotation

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the span of about five hours yesterday, the Yankees lost their two best starting pitchers to injury. First CC Sabathia was placed on the DL with a left adductor strain, then Andy Pettitte was struck by a batted ball and suffered a fractured left ankle. Brian Cashman said Sabathia could have pitched through his injury if this was the stretch drive or postseason, but they decided to play it safe. Obviously they didn’t have the same choice with Pettitte.

“CC is due back right after the (All-Star break),” said Cashman after yesterday’s game. “Andy, you’re talking about a minimum of six weeks of healing, and as a starter you have to get him going again, so I’ll throw two months in there in Andy’s case. We’ll just have to figure it out and see what happens. I would prefer not to go outside. Obviously if we do go outside, we’ve done that before. This is part of the process. You have to have alternatives. This gives opportunities for people to step up. Just like some guys in the bullpen have allowed us to step up and withstand some injuries — that’s what Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, and [Cody Eppley] have done — we’re going to have to ask for some other guys to do that for the rotation, as well. Let’s play it out and see where it takes us.”

The plan right now calls for Adam Warren to start in Sabathia’s place on Friday — he started for Triple-A Empire State on Sunday and lines up perfectly for tomorrow — and for Freddy Garcia to take Pettitte’s place on Monday. Ryota Igarashi is coming up from Triple-A to take Garcia’s spot in the bullpen, leaving the team without a true long reliever for the time being. In the short-term, the rotation shakes out like this…

  • Thursday, 6/28 vs. White Sox: Ivan Nova
  • Friday, 6/29 vs. White Sox: Warren
  • Saturday, 6/30 vs. White Sox: Hiroki Kuroda
  • Sunday, 7/1 vs. White Sox: Phil Hughes
  • Monday, 7/2 @ Rays: Garcia
  • Tuesday, 7/3 @ Rays: Nova
  • Wednesday, 7/4 @ Rays: Warren
  • Thursday, 7/5: scheduled day off
  • Friday, 7/6 @ Red Sox: Kuroda
  • Saturday, 7/7 @ Red Sox (doubleheader): Hughes and Garcia*
  • Sunday, 7/8 @ Red Sox: Nova

* Garcia will be on regular rest for the July 7th doubleheader thanks to that scheduled day off.

That takes the Yankees right to the All-Star break, after which Sabathia is scheduled to return. Assuming all goes well with CC, he’ll take either Garcia’s or Warren’s spot depending on how each guy performs in their two-start audition. If both guys are performing poorly, the Yankees will also have the option of bringing David Phelps back, who will be five starts into his minor league stint by then and presumably able to throw 95+ pitches. There’s always D.J. Mitchell as well, but he could wind up taking Igarashi’s spot sooner rather than later if the braintrust feels a long man is needed. Given Garcia’s short leash due to his time in the pen and the general unpredictability associated with a young guy like Warren, having a long man would probably be a pretty good idea.

The Yankees don’t rush into panic moves, at least not under Cashman in recent years. They have enough arms to get them to the All-Star break, then they can re-evaluate things once Sabathia returns. If neither Garcia, Warren, Phelps, or Mitchell distinguishes themselves in the rotation, they’ll still have plenty of time to explore the trade market. They could go big (Cole Hamels, Matt Garza or Zack Greinke), go medium (Ryan Dempster or Wandy Dempster), or go small (Jeremy Guthrie or Francisco Liriano). I suppose it depends on Pettitte’s rehab and how Hughes is holding up because frankly, we have reason to doubt his ability to remain effective over the course of a full season.

The Bombers have the makings of a really strong rotation on the DL with Sabathia and Pettitte joining Michael Pineda, so their big league staff has been compromised. The starters have been carrying the team for the last six weeks or so and now the offense is going to have to return the favor a bit, simply because there is no reasonable way to expect anyone to replace the two guys the Yankees lost yesterday. The good news is that they’re in a better position to absorb these losses than at any point in the last like, ten years really. For a while there were no internal options — hence Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon and Sidney Ponson– now there’s several. The Yankees will cycle through them and tread water for a few weeks, at least until Sabathia gets healthy and maybe until the trade deadline.

Aside: Boy, did Manny Banuelos pick a good time to get hurt or what? Same with Dellin Betances. He’s supposed to be getting called up in this situation, not demoted down to Double-A. What a let down.

email

Opportunity in the bullpen

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

We say the same thing every year, that the bullpen at the start of the season will not be the same as the bullpen at the end of the season. Players pitch their way on/off the club, trades happen, injuries occur, all sorts of stuff changes the bullpen dynamic during the course of 162 games. The one constant over the years has been Mariano Rivera, but unfortunately his torn right ACL means his name will be one of those we see in April but not October.

Thankfully, the Yankees are in capable hands with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano in the late innings. Whoever takes Rivera’s roster spot won’t take his role as closer, they’ll instead work middle relief while Cory Wade, Soriano, and Robertson each move up a notch on the totem pole, so to speak. Side-arming righty Cody Eppley currently occupies Mo’s spot on the roster, but he’s far from the team’s only option. As we’ve seen over the last few seasons, the Yankees will cycle through internal options before finding the right mix or going out and making a trade.

Eppley and D.J. Mitchell have already come up from the minors to aid the relief corps this year, but now let’s run down the list of players we could also see in the coming weeks….

Splitter grip. (Debby Wong/US PRESSWIRE)

RHP Kevin Whelan
The last remaining piece of the Gary Sheffield trade, Whelan made his big league debut last season and walked five in 1.2 IP. The 28-year-old was substantially better in Triple-A (3.24 FIP in 52.1 IP) and has continued that success this year. Whelan can miss bats with a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s splitter, but he’s really struggled with his control aside from last season. Middle relief is a good place to stash a guy who can run into trouble with walks.

RHP Chase Whitley
The Yankees bumped Whitley up to Triple-A after a brief return to Double-A to start the season, and he’s pitched extremely well to start the season: 2.43 FIP in 15.2 IP. Using three pitches in relief — 89-91 mph fastball, low-80s slider, changeup — Whitley isn’t a huge strikeout guy and will rely on his defense more than most Yankees relievers. I ranked him as the club’s 30th best prospect before the season because of his likelihood of contributing to the big league team, not necessarily his upside.

LHP Juan Cedeno
The darkhorse, Cedeno signed out of an independent league this offseason and impressed both in Spring Training and while with Triple-A (1.62 FIP in 12.2 IP). The 28-year-old southpaw profiles as more of a specialist than a full-inning reliever, throwing a low-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. Once ranked as the ninth best prospect in the Red Sox’s system (2003), Cedeno has spent time in Korea and missed all of 2010 with some kind of injury. The Yankees already have two left-handed relievers and a third doesn’t make much sense, but Cedeno should be on the big league radar.

RHP Jason Bulger & RHP Adam Miller
Two of the more veteran options on the Triple-A staff, neither Bulger nor Miller figure to get serious consideration for a bullpen job anytime soon. Bulger hasn’t pitched well (5.25 FIP in 13.2 IP) either this year or at all since 2009, and Miller has only appeared in three games after starting the season on the DL. Miller is a former top prospect and could pitch his way onto the radar last this summer, but I can’t imagine either of these guys will get a look anytime soon.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

RHP Adam Warren & RHP D.J. Mitchell
Unlike the other five guys in this post, Warren and Mitchell are legitimate long relief candidates. We’ve already seen Mitchell in that role and he’s likely to come back up if another multi-inning guy is needed, especially since Warren hasn’t pitched all that well this year (5.46 FIP in 25.2 IP). I do think both guys — and we should lump David Phelps into this group as well — could be effective in short, one-inning bursts, which could be more plausible since Freddy Garcia is currently the long reliever and Andy Pettitte is due back at some point soon. With three guys like that, odds are one of them will prove useful in a middle relief role right away.

* * *

Mitchell is the only player in this post currently on the 40-man roster, though the Yankees still have a number of 60-day DL candidates: Cesar Cabral, Brad Meyers, Austin Romine, and of course, Mo. The 40-man thing isn’t really a problem. Whelan, Whitley, Warren, and Mitchell give the team a couple of decent short-term relief options, plus there’s always the waiver wire and trade market. The important thing is that the Yankees already have these guys in-house and don’t have to scramble to fill out their pitching staff like they did in the mid-aughts.

Update: Yanks recall Mitchell, send Garcia to ‘pen

Update (12:09pm): As expected, Eppley has been sent down to Triple-A to make room on the roster for Mitchell.

11:42am: Freddy Garcia has been bumped from the rotation and will pitch out of the bullpen for the first time in his career. Joe Girardi hinted at both Mitchell and David Phelps being candidates to fill the rotation void, probably depending on who is needed out of the bullpen the next few days.

10:48am:The Yankees have recalled D.J. Mitchell from Triple-A, the team announced. There’s no word on the corresponding roster move, but I suspect Cody Eppley will be sent down after throwing three innings and 37 pitches yesterday. No 40-man roster move is required.

Mitchell, 24, was scheduled to start for Triple-A Empire State today, so he’s fresh and available for a whole lot of innings. He had been the best starter on the club’s top minor league affiliate in the early going, pitching to a 3.13 ERA with 8.22 K/9 (24.1 K%), 2.74 BB/9 (8.1 BB%), and a 48% ground ball rate in 21 IP across four starts. I ranked him as the Yankees’ 16th best prospect before the season.

Poll: The Long Man

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

No one likes to see a teammate get hurt, but it’s hard to imagine the Triple-A trio of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell didn’t take the Michael Pineda shoulder tendinitis news as a personal positive. The injury freed up a bullpen spot and moved those three one step closer to the big leagues. There’s only one spot for three guys though, and the team is clearly looking to fill that spot with a traditional long man.

“Larry (Rothschild)’s done a really good job of getting them built up,” said Joe Girardi. “We kept them in camp a long time, and it was important they were built up for the season, and they are. But they’re built up to be a long man as well.”

What we’re talking about is the Hector Noesi role, which is fitting since Noesi was a Triple-A starter with seemingly little path to the big leagues at this time last year. As usual, these things have a way of working themselves out. The Yankees have to decide which of the three is best suited for the role and make the decision fairly soon since the Triple-A season starts in three days. Looking at Spring Training performance doesn’t really help one player stand out from the pack either…

G/GS IP TBF ERA K% BB% GB%
Mitchell 6/0 14.1 63 2.51 19.0% 12.7% 50.0%
Phelps 6/1 16.0 67 2.25 17.9% 6.0% 47.2%
Warren 5/2 15.0 63 4.80 12.7% 1.6% 60.0%

Not only are we talking about Spring Training numbers, but we’re talking about a small sample of Spring Training numbers. That’s like, the double whammy of baseball statistics. Maybe the two negatives cancel each other out and we should take these number seriously, but good luck deciding who’s performed the best.

I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. I believe all three guys are capable of long relief work in the show right now, so there’s a chance the decision will come down to factors other than expected performance. Warren isn’t on the 40-man roster, so that might work against him. The Yankees reportedly view Mitchell as a reliever long-term, which could work in his favor. It could also work against Phelps, who might be sent to the minors so he remains fully stretched out for whenever a spot start is needed. We could come up with a million different scenarios supporting each guy.

The nice thing about this whole situation is the flexibility. Whatever decision the Yankees make isn’t permanent; they can swap these guys out as needed. If Phelps ends up throwing 80 pitches in extra innings or something, they could send him down and recall Mitchell for a fresh arm. If the guy they pick for Opening Day stinks, well there are two replacements ready to go. We say it every year but it is worth repeating: the bullpen at the start of the year is never the same as the bullpen at the end of the year.

Anyway, a situation like this calls for a poll. We’ve had quite a few of these lately, but so be it. It’s that time of the year.

Who should be the long man to open the season?
View Results

Austin Romine and D.J. Mitchell win 2011 Kevin Lawn Awards

Via Mike Ashmore, Austin Romine and D.J. Mitchell have named the 2011 Kevin Lawn Award winners. That’s a fancy way of saying they were named the Yankees’ minor league hitter and pitcher of the year for last season. Romine produced a .332 wOBA in 85 Double-A games last year before brief promotions to Triple-A and the big leagues. He also won the award in 2009. Mitchell pitched to a 3.18 ERA (3.96 FIP) in a farm system-leading 161.1 IP for Triple-A Scranton last summer. Congrats to both.