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Boone confident in rotation depth

@RichardJustice
March 6, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- Deep breaths. Positive energy. Trust the process. There's my free advice for Yankee fans who may need a day or two to get their minds around opening a season with, say, Domingo Germán and Jonathan Loaisiga in the rotation. Guess what?

TAMPA, Fla. -- Deep breaths. Positive energy. Trust the process. There's my free advice for Yankee fans who may need a day or two to get their minds around opening a season with, say, Domingo Germán and Jonathan Loaisiga in the rotation.

Guess what?

"We're fine with that," said Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who added that hopefully it's not a long-term situation.

That's the reality the Yankees are dealing with as ace Luis Severino deals with a cranky right shoulder and veteran CC Sabathia seems certain to open the season on the injured list and then serve a five-game suspension for his actions in a Sept. 27 game against the Rays.

First things first. The Yankees have no idea when Severino will throw another pitch in a Major League game, and that's the frightening part of this. In a best-case scenario, he misses some time in April and returns as good as ever.

The Yankees are encouraged that an MRI revealed Severino's sore right shoulder is structurally sound, and that a cortisone injection and anti-inflammatory medication might do the trick.

At his best, Severino is one of the sport's five or six most dominant starters, so this is no small thing. On the other hand, pitchers of his caliber can't be replaced. Certainly not in March. Blake Snell isn't walking through that door.

Down the road, things may change. The Giants could make Madison Bumgarner available in June or July. The Pirates might listen to offers for Chris Archer.

With Sabathia having undergone heart and knee procedures, he's going to need some time to catch up. He threw all his pitches in a bullpen session on Wednesday.

"He looks good," Boone said. "He feels good. I'm optimistic about the kind of path we've laid out unfolding for him. But that said, he's still a little bit behind."

Wait, you're saying, what about free agents Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez? Why don't the Yankees just go get one of them?

At the moment, that's not the plan. For one thing, the Yankees think Severino and Sabathia can pitch this season. Besides that, they appear in no danger of missing the playoffs since they have the best bullpen on the planet and one of the best offenses. A rotation that begins with a front three of Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton could be excellent.

While Boone acknowledged feeling comfortable with German, Loaisiga or Cessa in the rotation, he said the club's bullpen is so strong the Yankees could use an opener.

That's when a short-inning reliever pitches to the first handful of hitters, allowing the starter to enter the game and face the heart of the lineup one less time.

For now, the Yankees say they're going to let things play out a bit and figure out what they have. That's the way the best organizations usually react to things like this. That's also the only reasonable choice since there's no free-agent starter that excites them enough to break the second luxury tax threshold.

"We're going to rely on what we have here in camp and be open to any opportunities," general manager Brian Cashman said. "What I've got is what I've got. We're comfortable with that, but we also recognize that as the season plays out, we're going to have to add to this group regardless."

The Yankees believe they have solid internal options. That doesn't mean they have someone as good as Severino, but Cashman has done a nice job amassing organizational depth.

Check out four players he has acquired over the last few years: outfielder Aaron Hicks, shortstop Didi Gregorius, reliever Chad Green and first baseman Luke Voit.

Cashman won all those trades, which speaks volumes about the quality of the Yankees' decision-making. Now, we'll find out about some other acquisitions.

When Cashman got right-hander Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins in December 2014, he also acquired German, a 22-year-old Class A right-hander.

This spring, German has blown through Major League hitters and seems to be the frontrunner to take Severino's place in the rotation. He's 26 years old and has a 5.22 ERA in 28 Major League appearances. He also has a 95-mph fastball and has averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

"I know he can impact us here in a positive way," Cashman said, "but there's some others, too."

Loaisiga was signed out of a tryout camp in 2016 after being let go by the Giants. Loaisiga was 21 at the time, but he's now 24 and ranked the club's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline.

"Loaisiga has some of the best stuff I've ever seen," reliever Zack Britton said. "His stuff is absolutely electric. You keep him healthy, there's no doubt that stuff can dominate at the Major League level."

Staying healthy has been a challenge. Loaisiga got knocked around by the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon, getting charged with four runs in 2 1/3 innings. He was excellent in his only other spring start.

"Tired out a little bit," Boone said, "and his stuff fell off. But really sharp there the first couple of innings. A good step for him. Got to keep building that stamina."

This isn't how the Yankees hoped it would play out, but they knew there'd be bumps in the road. Until Severino's injury, every projection had the Yankees winning the American League East, and they still might.

"We'll adjust," Cashman said. "That's what everybody has to do."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.