Yankees' starters must get on a roll
Tanaka, CC and Pineda vital to club's playoff hopes
NEW YORK -- Summer's first real blush hit Yankee Stadium on Monday night with a game-time temperature of 86 degrees. But as June heads quickly toward July, the questions that plagued the Yankees' pitching staff this spring not only have yet to be fully answered, but were exacerbated by their 11-8 loss to the 25-47 Phillies.
"That's the thing about this game," said manager Joe Girardi after starter Michael Pineda was knocked out in the fourth, having been touched for eight runs (all earned) on 11 hits. "We talk about momentum, but it starts with your starting pitcher. If you don't make pitches, I don't care what level you're at, you're going to get hit around. And that's what happened tonight."
The Yankees opened Spring Training wondering how their top three starters would rebound from a season rife with injuries.
Masahiro Tanaka had ligament damage in his right elbow, CC Sabathia had surgery on his right knee and Pineda had right shoulder problems that have limited him to 27 starts since he was obtained in a trade with the Mariners after the 2011 season.
To be sure, the results have been mixed. Pineda is an eight-game winner and says he is healthy, but this was his worst start of the season coming a day after Tanaka gave up seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits, including a career-high three homers in five innings as the Tigers rolled, 12-4.
The collective ERA of the starters has ballooned to 4.42, tied with the defending American League champion Royals for 25th in the Major Leagues.
It's one thing to be mauled by the Tigers and their No. 2 ranked offense in the Major Leagues, but quite another to be roughed up by the No. 27 Phillies.
But the Yankees seem to be stocked with equal opportunity pitchers.
"It's hard to tell where we are with any of them," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "You've seen really good games and you've seen games that are not only not good, but they're bad. Hopefully we'll work that out."
Sabathia has only won three games with a 5.31 ERA, plus a voluminous 1.40 WHIP. At 34, he has yet to show any remote signs of his former Cy Young Award-winning self.
Tanaka certainly is laboring under the shadow of Tommy John surgery. He missed almost half of the 2014 season with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in the right elbow and this past May with a right forearm strain. So far doctors have said he's had no issues. But his inability to hit spots on Sunday or throw with any authority might be indications that he's a disaster waiting to happen. It's not as if those kind of injuries just go away.
And talking about the walking wounded, only 14 months out from last year's Tommy John surgery, Ivan Nova has been penciled in to make his first start of the season Wednesday against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. It'll be Nova's first start since April 19, 2014, a 16-1 loss at Tampa Bay in which he allowed eight earned runs on eight hits in only four innings.
Considering all of this, perhaps consistency at this point is just too much to ask.
"I don't know if it's too much to ask, but it's an adjustment I think they go through," Rothschild said. "It's just hard to figure some of it. Like Michael's last game, he threw a one-hitter. Tanaka had three good games. So it's hard to figure, but you do what you can and try to get through it."
In any event, the Yankees have already set a club record for a month by using 21 pitchers in June. With left-handed reliever Andrew Miller still on the disabled list because of a flexor strain in his left forearm, the Yanks have been running a shuttle service from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They called up two more relievers Monday, Diego Moreno and Nick Rumbelow.
Nova would be the 22nd pitcher used this month and perhaps he will push Adam Warren back to the bullpen. Warren and Nathan Eovaldi have been two of the club's most consistent starters, combining for 11 of the rotation's 27 wins.
Miller is still a ways out, saying he hasn't even started to play catch. That could happen as early as Wednesday.
"The injury is just something that happened," said Miller, who represents 17 of the club's 23 saves sitting on the bench. "If it was September or October, I probably could have pitched through it. But since it was so early we figured we'd be better off taking care of it now."
Considering all of this, it's amazing the Yankees are 38-32 and one game out of first place in the AL East, bunched up with the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays.
This uncertainty among the pitchers seems to be a way of life. Last year, four-fifths of the rotation missed most of the season. The only survivor was Hiroki Kuroda, who made all 32 of his starts and recorded 11 wins. Otherwise, Girardi was able to cobble together 28 victories from an assortment of starters, most of whom are no longer with the team.
The point is, Sabathia, Pineda and Tanaka are still here and active. At some point, they need to get it together as a unit and reel off some wins.
"I think that just happens naturally. I don't think there's any magic words that I can say," Girardi said. "One guy goes out and pitches well. The next guy goes out wants to outperform him and pitches well. Then all of a sudden, you've got something going."
And to get it going, as Girardi said, it all starts with starting pitching.