Injury Updates: Pineda, Nova, Beltran, Banuelos

Allergic reaction to Gatorade, 60-day DL. (Presswire)
Allergic reaction to Gatorade, 60-day DL. (Presswire)

Mark Teixeira is back in the lineup tonight after leaving yesterday’s game because he took a pitch to the left foot. The Yankees dodged a bullet there. Here are some injury updates to pass along, courtesy of Dan Martin, Jorge Castillo, Marly Rivera, and Nick Peruffo:

  • Michael Pineda (shoulder) is fully expected to begin a throwing program this coming weekend, according to Joe Girardi. They are “pretty confident” the extra week of rest will knock out the lingering “trace” of inflammation. “Our doctors felt (another MRI) won’t be necessary. It’s a fairly minor amount of inflammation in there compared to what it was. Another week should be plenty sufficient,” said the skipper.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) is running and lifting light weights, but he won’t start throwing until late-August or September. That’s normal, his rehab is right on schedule so far. “I got to go outside and run a little bit,” he said. “I’m still two months away (from throwing). I still have a ways to go.”
  • Carlos Beltran (elbow) is currently throwing from 120 feet with no significant discomfort. He was expected to begin throwing to the bases over the weekend, and if that went well, they would come up with a plan and a firm timetable to get him back into right field.
  • Manny Banuelos (blisters) has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL. He had some blister issues several years back. Banuelos missed most of 2012-13 with elbow problems, including Tommy John surgery.
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Replacing Ivan Nova, both now and later

Vidal, open your eyes! (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Vidal, open your eyes! (Getty)

The Yankees got some very bad pitching news over the weekend. Ivan Nova left Saturday’s start with a sore elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He will be re-evaluated in New York today and, based on how these things have gone for other pitchers around the league, it’s very likely Nova will need Tommy John surgery in the near future. The procedure would end his season and delay the start of his 2015 campaign as well.

Nova was the team’s least effective pitcher so far this season — that could be the result of the injury, of course — so the Yankees will only have to replace their fifth starter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a big loss or anything like that, but there’s a difference between losing Nova and losing one of the other starters. This blow is easier to absorb. What can the Yankees do to replace Nova? Several things, actually. Let’s look at this two different ways.

Immediate Replacements
The Yankees have already placed Nova on the 15-day DL, so even if today’s re-evaluation brings best case scenario news, he’s going to miss a minimum of two starts. (Off-days could help the team out a bit.) Vidal Nuno pitched well in yesterday’s spot start (five scoreless innings) and today’s off-day allows him to step right into Nova’s rotation spot, if the team decides to go that way. I have to think they will based on yesterday’s work.

The other options on the big league roster are Adam Warren and David Phelps, both of whom competed for the fifth starter’s job in camp. Warren has settled into a one-inning setup role and even though the season is barely three weeks old, I think he’s there to stay. Even with David Robertson due to come off the DL tomorrow. Phelps has become more of a multi-inning, multi-purpose reliever. He works the middle innings, the late innings, whatever is needed. Kinda like 2009 Al Aceves. Both Warren and Phelps would need to be stretched back out, unlike Nuno.

The Triple-A options aren’t very good. The RailRiders have a mostly veteran retread rotation, and the only guy on the staff with any kind of big league success is, well, Al Aceves. He was last effective in 2011. I can’t imagine others like Brian Gordon, Bruce Billings, and Chris Leroux will get serious rotation consideration. Same with Manny Banuelos. (Billings has been quite good actually, with a 2.74 ERA and 2.67 FIP in 23 innings.) I can’t see any of these guys getting the nod over Nuno or Phelps right now. If anything, Aceves could be called up to fill a bullpen job, but that’s probably it. Nuno seems like the guy right now.

(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

Longer-Term Replacements
If Nova does indeed go down for the rest of the season — even avoiding surgery and successfully rehabbing the injury will sideline him for weeks if not months — I think the Yankees have to consider making a trade to bolster their rotation. Remember, Michael Pineda is going to have his workload monitored closely following shoulder surgery, plus we don’t really know what to expect out of Masahiro Tanaka late in the season now that he’s starting every fifth day for the first time in his life. Plus Hiroki Kuroda has shown a tendency to wear down late in the year. Adding some rotation help is never a bad idea.

When looking for trade candidates, the easiest thing to do is find impending free agents on non-contenders. There are fewer sellers at the deadline these days because of the second wildcard spot, so the pool of available players really shrinks. Teams like the Diamondbacks (Brandon McCarthy?), Astros (Jerome Williams?), and Cubs (Jason Hammel?) seem like safe bets to be terrible. The Marlins (Kevin Slowey?), Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa?), and Padres (Eric Stults?) are other potential sellers.

The big rotation trade candidate is the same guy it’s been for about three years now: Cliff Lee. We know the Yankees love him, he remains among the game’s truly elite pitchers, and at this point there is only ~$45M left on his contract through next year. It’s not a huge long-term commitment. (His deal does include a vesting option for 2016.) Lee is someone any team would love to add to their staff and he’d be ultra-overqualified to replace Nova. Even if the Phillies decide to sell, do the Yankees have the prospects to compete against offers from clubs like the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers?

* * *

The upcoming rotation situation would have been much murkier had Nuno gotten bombed yesterday. But, because he pitched well, he’ll likely get another chance or three to fill-in for Nova. And who knows? Maybe Nuno is the long-term solution. If not, the Yankees can try Phelps. A trade is something I think they should consider no matter how well those two perform, but that can wait. It’s early in the season and the Yankees can afford to be patient with their internal options. Nova did not pitch well in his first four starts this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be easy to replace.

Ivan Nova has partially torn UCL

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

It appears the Yankees have lost one of their starters for an extended period of time. Ivan Nova has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the Yankees announced. Yes, that is the Tommy John surgery ligament. He will be re-evaluated in New York tomorrow, during the team’s off-day.

Nova, 27, left yesterday’s start with a sore elbow and was sent for tests. He reportedly did not complain of any pain, and it wasn’t until he shook him arm following a pitch that Joe Girardi and the rest of the staff took notice. Nova tried to talk his way into remaining in the game but that wasn’t going to happen. “It’s hard. I don’t even know what to tell you guys. I’m so sad right now that I’m not going to be pitching,” he said to Erik Boland.

This is Nova’s fourth arm injury in the last four years. He suffered a forearm strain during the 2011 postseason, shoulder inflammation in August 2012, and triceps inflammation last April. Nova is a breaking ball heavy pitcher, throwing his curveball and/or slider at least 31% of the time the last three years. That’s usually bad news for the elbow.

Nova may try to rehab the injury but that rarely seems to work. Chad Billingsley and Matt Harvey both tried to rehab partially torn UCLs only to wind up having Tommy John surgery, for example. There has been a lot of talk recently — from people like Dr. James Andrews, not schmucks like me — about the elbow reconstruction rehab process being too aggressive these days. The prescribed rehab time is 12-18 months, so if the Nova does need surgery, we might not see him again until the 2015 All-Star break.

It’s unclear who will replace Nova in the rotation right now. Vidal Nuno is making a spot start today and thanks to tomorrow’s off-day, he’d line up perfectly to replace Nova. David Phelps is another option, but he isn’t stretched out. Adam Warren has settled into a one-inning setup role and it’s tough to see him moving into the rotation. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen though. Triple-A starters include veterans Bruce Billings, Al Aceves, and Chris Leroux. We’ll see. Either way, Nova probably isn’t returning anytime soon.

Yankees announce Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova as top three starters

As expected, Joe Girardi announced CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova will start the team’s first three games of the regular season. Well, he didn’t really come out and announce it, but the rotation for the rest of the week indicates that will be the case. This lines up Kuroda for the home opener. Masahiro Tanaka figures to slide in as the number four starter with either Michael Pineda or David Phelps as the five. Obligatory reminder that the rotation order on Opening Day means nothing.

Dream of a young, power rotation is becoming a reality for 2014 and beyond

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I know it’s only Spring Training, but man oh man has Michael Pineda looked good. He looks healthy, his delivery is free and easy, his slider is still vicious, and his fastball gone from topping out at 92 mph in his first outing to topping out at 94 mph in his third. It has only been three games and a total of nine innings, but it’s hard not to be encouraged and excited by what Pineda’s done these last few weeks. He looks as good as we could have possibly hoped.

And yet, despite Pineda’s strong showing, he isn’t the big pitching story of the spring. Masahiro Tanaka has come over from the Rakuten Golden Eagles and after only a few weeks of camp, it feels like he’s been here for years. The transition has appeared to be seamless — I’m sure it’s been difficult for him, how could it not? — and his outings have matched the scouting reports. He throws strikes, has a wipeout splitter, and an underrated slider. When he’s gotten in jams, he’s cranked it up a notch, something we heard he’ll do long before he signed on the dotted line. As with Pineda, Tanaka has looked as good as we could have possibly hoped.

Flying under the radar this spring has been Ivan Nova, at least to some extent. Following yesterday’s outing he now has 21 strikeouts and two walks in 19.2 Grapefruit League innings, and I think the most impressive thing was the way he made adjustments mid-start and rebounded from a terrible first inning against the Astros a week or two ago. It was the kind of bad inning that used to spiral out of control, but instead Nova righted the ship and put together a good start. He’s been healthy and he’s been throwing the ball well. It’s been a strong spring for Ivan.

“I’ve seen a guy that’s come into spring training that, it seems like he realizes how good he can be,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s important. I think for all young players, there’s that doubt always a little bit, can I do this on a consistent basis? Can I do it start after start, or game after game if you’re a position player? Do I need to look over my starter? Is there someone always doubting what I can do? I think he’s realized that, you know what, I can be pretty good.”

Joe Girardi said that to Chad Jennings yesterday and was referring to Nova, but he could have easily been talking about Pineda or Tanaka. All three came to camp with something to prove and they’ve answered every question along the way. Just about everything has gone according to plan with these three and that’s pretty great. Usually when you’re talking about three pitchers — I guess this applies to any type of player, really — one will slip up somewhere along the lines. Two out of three is a pretty good success rate in baseball.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

But all three guys have done everything they’ve needed to do in Spring Training and it’s really exciting. It’s really exciting for 2014 and for the Yankees going forward, because all three of these guys are young. Nova is the oldest and he just turned 27 in January. Pineda turned 25 that same month and Tanaka turned 25 back in November. The Yankees have an older roster in general and the other two members of the rotation are up there in age — Hiroki Kuroda just turned 39 and CC Sabathia is about 75 in pitching years given all the mileage on his arm — but these three fellas are all right smack in their prime or about the enter the prime of their careers. I’m going to use the word again: exciting.

This is Spring Training and the time of the year for overwhelming and occasionally irrational optimism. I don’t know how any Yankees fan could look at Pineda, Tanaka, and Nova these last few weeks and not start dreaming about a rotation built around their young power arms for the next few years. We know there are going to be bumps in the road, they’re inevitable, but right now everything is going right and that’s something the club needed in Spring Training. The pieces of the next great Yankees rotation are in place. We’ve know that because seen ‘em with our own eyes these last few weeks.

Rotation lined up as Spring Training winds down

Number four in the rotation, number one in our hearts. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
Number four in the rotation, number one in our hearts. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is the order of the starting rotation at the beginning of the season means very little. It’s all symbolism. The Opening Day start usually goes to a veteran who has been with the team a while, not necessarily the best pitcher. Being designated as the staff ace and actually pitching like an ace are two different things. Scheduled off-days and rain-outs throw a wrench into the rotation after a few weeks and the order gets all mixed up anyway. It’s fun to talk about, but the importance is small.

Spring Training ends in less than two weeks — the final Grapefruit League game is next Saturday — and the Yankees have started to line up their rotation for Opening Day and the start of the regular season. I’m sure it has actually been plotted out and planned for a few weeks now, but now that we can see the light at the end of the Spring Training tunnel, the plan is a little more concrete. Courtesy of Chad Jennings, here is the rotation through the weekend according to Joe Girardi:

Wednesday: Ivan Nova
Thursday: David Phelps
Friday: CC Sabathia
Saturday: Masahiro Tanaka
Hiroki Kuroda in a minor league game
Sunday: Michael Pineda

With Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren nowhere to be found, it’s likely both have already made their final starts of the spring. That makes sense, they always seemed to be the distant third and fourth contenders for the final rotation spot. Girardi confirmed Warren will make the team in some capacity a few weeks ago, so he’s headed to the bullpen. Nuno could very well wind up in Triple-A as the sixth starter.

Michael Pineda has been fantastic this spring with the obvious caveats: he’s coming off major shoulder surgery, it’s mid-March, he isn’t stretched out all the way, he hasn’t faced the greatest lineups, etc. Everything we’ve seen so far is encouraging and even though Girardi stopped short of anointing him the fifth starter — “The other guys are throwing pretty well too. We’ve got to figure out what’s best for our team as a whole,” he said to Bryan Hoch yesterday — it sure seems like Pineda is the favorite to start the season in the rotation, relegating David Phelps to the bullpen. So, with that in mind, here’s how next week’s rotation lines up:

  • Monday, March 24th: OFF DAY (Nova throws a simulated or minor league game)
  • Tuesday, March 25th vs. Phillies: Phelps on regular rest
  • Wednesday, March 26th @ Blue Jays: Sabathia on regular rest
  • Thursday, March 27th @ Pirates: Kuroda on regular rest
  • Friday, March 28th vs. Marlins: Tanaka with one extra day of rest
  • Saturday, March 29th vs. Marlins: Nova on regular rest, Pineda???
  • Sunday, March 30th: OFF DAY

According to Jennings, Girardi “hinted that someone will pitch at the complex” during the Monday’s scheduled off-day. Nova lines up perfectly for that day, so he seems to be the guy. Phelps, Sabathia, and Kuroda follow with their final Grapefruit League starts on regular rest, then Tanaka goes with one extra day. The team has said they are planning to give him the extra day here and there. It’s also worth noting that regardless of whether he starts Thursday or Friday (or Saturday or Sunday for that matter), Tanaka will have faced only one AL club this winter (the Twins this coming Saturday). I doubt this was a coincidence. The Yankees kept him hidden from the direct competition while still getting him innings against MLB caliber hitters. Clever.

Anyway, following Tanaka’s start, Nova closes out the Grapefruit League schedule on regular rest next Saturday. What happens with Pineda at that point is anyone’s guess. He could come out of the bullpen to replace Nova, he could throw a simulated game, or he could start a minor league game. The Yankees have options. Pineda will be working on one extra day of rest Saturday and it’s good to give him that little break following his surgery and long rehab. They have to take it easy on him and not work him too hard, too soon.

With that all laid out, here’s how the rotation lines up the following week:

  • Monday, March 31st: OFF DAY
  • Tuesday, April 1st @ Astros: Sabathia with one extra day of rest
  • Wednesday, April 2nd @ Astros: Kuroda with one extra day of rest
  • Thursday, April 3rd @ Astros: Nova on regular rest
  • Friday, April 4th @ Blue Jays: Tanaka with two extra days of rest
  • Saturday, April 5th @ Blue Jays: Pineda with two extra days of rest

Nova’s the only guy who wouldn’t make his first start of the season with extra rest and since he’s young and healthy (and not coming over from Japan), he probably needs the extra rest the least. Pineda could throw a simulated game or pitch in a minor league game on Sunday the 30th instead of Saturday the 29th, allowing him to make that first regular season start on one extra day of rest rather than two. There is such a thing as too much rest, remember. He can get out of rhythm or something like that. Tanaka is used to starting with six days of rest, so the two extra days should be no big deal to him.

The Yankees have indicated Tanaka will start the fourth game of the season rather than the third for two specific reasons. One, they want to split him and Kuroda up since they have very similar styles as fastball/splitter/slider pitchers. (It’s not just a racial thing, you know.) Two, they want to give Tanaka extra rest when they can, and by starting him in the fourth game, he’ll be able to make his third start of the season with an extra day of rest. If he starts the third game of the season, he’d have to make both his second and third starts with normal rest. Anything to help the transition.

Sabathia was pretty terrible last season but he’s getting the nod on Opening Day for past performance. The guy was pretty awesome from 2009-12. Like I said before, the Opening Day start is a novelty more than anything. It doesn’t have any kind of real value to the team. The Game One starter for a postseason series, now that actually matters. Opening Day? Nah, not worth getting upset over. The rotation is all lined up for the start of the season and everyone who needs an extra day or two of rest will get it, and that’s it the most important thing.