Turning to the second part of our April survey, we find that the success of the pitching might have turned on a necessity of Tommy John surgery and a large glob of pine tar on someone’s neck………
|New York Yankees – Pitching – Month – April|
The Yankees started the season, as expected, with the usual five-man rotation . They had two veterans that they could place their confidence in – C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. They had two unknown quantities – Masahiro Tanaka (fresh off the plane from Japan and with no major league experience) and Michael Pineda (one good season at Seattle, followed by two recovering from injury at New York, surely he wouldn’t bounce back). And they had a young pitcher in Ivan Nova going into his fifth season in the pinstripes who had an uneven record – needing at one point last season to be sent down to Scranton but bouncing back well on his return.
So what happened? The very unpredictable. The two veterans struggled to display their expected form. Sabathia is still the heaviest player on the roster but he is positively sylph-like compared to how he was a few years ago. I don’t know whether this is connected but the velocity he had hoped to regain with better pre-season preparation has not returned and he is left to rely on his change-up to spice up his breaking pitches. After his first month, he is 3-3 with a 5.11 ERA which is not the statistics line of an ace of the staff. If Sabathia is not at his best then the next place to look for that ace would be the aging but durable Kuroda. He has had good outings and bad outings, one no-decision, two wins, two losses. He has not made it to the seven innings mark during the month and once had to fold his hand before the fifth was complete. His performances drifted as the month progressed and what this means for the season as a whole is debatable. Nova’s best game of the month (and probably of the season) came against Houston on the 3rd of the month. After that each performance became worse and worse, until the Yankees withdrew him in the 5th inning of the game against the Rays on the 19th. When he left the field he had conceded eight earned runs. An MRI revealed what the doctors call a right elbow ulnar collateral ligament injury. The bottom line for Yankees fans is that this will need to be fixed by Tommy John surgery and will mean that Nova will be gone for over a year.
So where to look for answers? Well, Tanaka has been outstanding. Five starts resulting in three wins and two no-decisions. He has a 2.27 ERA and is second in WHIP, level with reliever Adam Warren behind David Robertson. He is averaging over 7 innings a start and whilst it is too early yet to draw conclusions, all the signs are positive that he might well be the real deal.
Actually, it should be a double celebration, if it wasn’t for the story of a nervous young man and an ever increasing quantity of pine tar. What to say about Michael Pineda? He opened the season with three great performances with two wins and an ERA which was hovering just over the 1.00 mark. However, in the second of those three games there was controversy. Some substance on Pineda’s hand seemed to be helping him grip the ball. Not surprisingly, the TV cameras fixated on this. They said it was pine tar. Pineda said it was dirt. Now the Yankees have history with pine tar. Can anybody out there say George Brett and Billy Martin in the same sentence. Pineda’s 4th appearance began in a less assured way and this time Boston’s patience ran out (for it was the old rival they had also been playing in the aforementioned second game) and an appeal to the umpires led to an examination of a foreign substance on the pitcher’s neck. It was determined it was pine tar and Pineda was ejected and later suspended for 10 games. To make matters worse, the young pitcher then hurt himself in a simulated game and looks likely to be out for a minimum of four weeks with a back strain. And to think it began so well……..
On the other hand, the bullpen has been a consistent strength – at least, those who would have expected to be fixtures in the ‘pen. They have delivered above and beyond expectations. Let’s begin at the end. David Robertson was the guy ear-marked to be the closer and with the difficult job of taking over from Mariano Rivera. In six appearances in April, he collected four saves, gave up no runs and leads the team in WHIP. Nuff said. The only downside to this is the 15 days he spent on the DL between the 7th and 22nd. Girardi needs to monitor that so the Yankees don’t lose him again. Whilst Robertson was out, the closing role was mainly picked up by Shawn Kelley, who was coming off an uneven season last time around. He also picked up 4 saves and his month shows a 2.38 ERA which bodes well and is better than 2013. The left-hand specialist role was given to free agent signing, Matt Thornton, who also performed well. He left the month with 11 appearances although the habit of using him against left-handers limited him to just 5 innings in those games. An ERA below 2 served the Yankees well. Vidal Nuno was the other left-hander who was expected to be in the bullpen but he was limited to three appearances and struggled enormously in the last of the three against Baltimore where he gave up seven runs. After that the Yankees didn’t use him for twelve days and when they called on him again. it was as a starter covering for Nova. That is a difficult role for him as he has struggled to make the five innings mark and at the moment, he seems to fall between the two possibilities that the Yankees have for him and fulfil neither.
If Nuno’s future is undetermined, the Yankees seem to have found the ideal role for the intimidating Dellin Betances. The 6′ 8″ right-hander has been using his fastball to great effect and has pitched over 13 innings in 10 appearances with an ERA of just over 2 and a WHIP of just under 1. Adam Warren and David Phelps have done what might have been expected of them with Warren being the slightly more convincing. One slightly surprising addition, and a real bonus, is Preston Claiborne. Claiborne was a real asset in the first half of last season before falling to pieces and losing his confidence as the season went on. There was more of the same in Spring Training and his future time with the Yankees looked decidedly limited. However, some good performances with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders persuaded the big league club to give him another try, especially with the abundance of injuries and other call-ups under-performing. In April, he gave the Yankees three good outings and seems to be hitting his stride. This doesn’t mean he’s one for the long-term but he will do for now.
Those who have come and gone
Whilst, the Yankees have had a steady bullpen on the whole, there has been a difficulty in filling that lost slot, before Claiborne’s arrival, which has led to some interesting moments, some laughs and some complete blowouts. Cesar Cabral served up three good left-handed performances against his old club, Boston Red Sox and on the 18th came on in relief against Tampa Bay to continue the trend. That night, he gave up three runs without getting anyone out and more significantly hit three batters and was ejected for the third. This resulted in the Yankees removing him from the active roster and then the 40-man roster. He was eventually assigned to Scranton where he has continued to struggle.
Matt Daley and Bruce Billings were other call-ups who struggled. Billings’ nightmare call-up got worse when it resulted in him being added to the disabled list with a right forearm strain. Bryan Mitchell was called up for one day from Trenton Thunder (Double-A) but was not used.
Shane Greene was the pitcher who was to win the award for riding the shuttle most often, journeying back and forth from New York. He received the call on the 9th and was reassigned on the 14th. Next it was up again on the 16th and down on the 17th. He was back again on the 24th and gone again on the 26th. All this resulted in just one-third of an innings pitched with three walks given up. On the 26th, he was replaced by Chris Leroux who had a good appearance in April but for whom May was to tell a different story.
Finally, we had Dean Anna, the infielder, who had previously only pitched in batting practice but was pressed into action when Nova had to leave early injured and Matt Daley played his poor, only game of the season. Now in the tradition of Wade Boggs and Nick Swisher, that’s worth a smile despite the 16-1 loss.
This does mean that the Yankees in May will only have three starting pitchers they can feel confident in and a real danger that they will over-tire both the starters and the bullpen. Can they stay in contention? We will see……..