The loneliest spot in the world is the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium.
And right now it’s no secret that the biggest question mark for the Yankees coming into Spring Training (and the regular season, for that matter) was (and is) the starting pitching. The starters began the spring hot, but have had their ups and downs lately.
On Wednesday March 16, Ivan Nova stunned the Baltimore Orioles en route to a 10-0 Yankee win. The 24 year-old was perfect through six innings, pitching to some of the regular Oriole players including Vladimir Guerrero, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis. Nova appeared to be using a slider, which was working effectively. He struck out four batters and induced 11 ground ball outs.
It was his best start of the spring and his numbers right now are spectacular: 14 innings pitched, eight hits allowed, two runs allowed (both earned), two walks, seven strikeouts, and he is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.29.
It’s safe to say Nova would have to have a total meltdown in order to not make the rotation.
Yesterday A.J. Burnett was roughed up by his former team, and more specifically his former personal catcher. Burnett surrendered a home run to his old friend Jose Molina, on the way to a 6-5 Yankee loss to the Blue Jays. He threw two wild pitches, hit a batter, and was struck in the rear end by a comebacker.
It was his messiest start this spring and heading into that game he had not had a subpar start; he was consistent up until then.
Burnett’s numbers this spring are still acceptable: 2.77 ERA, 13 innings pitched, no walks, and 10 Ks. He has to find a way to translate what he has done this spring to the regular season, which starts in 12 days. It was announced by Yankee skipper Joe Girardi that Burnett will be the number two starter this year, which was expected.
On Thursday March 17 Phil Hughes started against the Tampa Bay Rays. His line wasn’t indicative of a bad outing: six innings pitched, two earned runs on four hits, one walk, and three strikeouts. According to the beat writers, “Hughes looked good on paper – but got hit hard.”
I am worried about Hughes. He was the number four starter last year and his arm was noticeably tired toward the end of last season. It was announced today that he will be the number three starter this year, meaning his role will be more important and he will be pitching a day earlier. Hughes needs to respond well if he wants to succeed. His ERA this spring is 4.70 – and bear in mind his ERA for last year was 4.19.
Today Freddy Garcia had a rather strange start – that’s probably the best way to characterize it. The starting rotation candidate tossed six innings and gave up five earned runs on five hits. He walked no one, fanned six, and his spring ERA is now 5.73.
It has become evident that it is now a competition for the fifth spot among Garcia, Sergio Mitre, and Bartolo Colon. Nova, with what he has demonstrated this spring, has the number four spot. Garcia was coming off a rough start and I mentioned after that game that he is under the microscope.
He is, and I don’t think he helped his cause today. However Girardi said after his performance today that he has one more shot before a decision is made regarding the back end of the rotation.
Whoever the job goes to, I don’t feel the Yankees are going to have a very strong presence in the number five spot in the rotation. Each of these three candidates have a lot to prove and they haven’t been overwhelmingly strong given their history and their numbers this spring.
Going by what Garcia showed these past two outings, well…he isn’t impressing anyone. And he only has one more chance to show that he is capable of the fifth starter role. Mitre recently had a problem with his oblique muscle and has given up a hit in each of the eight innings he has pitched this spring.
Again, not very promising signs.
Colon, although 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA this spring, has not been a force in baseball since 2005. In ’05 Colon won the A.L. Cy Young Award, only to go 14-21 since then with an ERA of 5.18 – not to mention he is overweight.
They say pitching wins pennants. The Yankee starters have a lot to prove if they want the pennant. Right now, here is what we have:
1) CC Sabathia
2) A.J. Burnett
3) Phil Hughes
4) Probably Ivan Nova
5) No one that has proven anything yet