By Neil Keefe
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On Wednesday morning the Yankees lost CC Sabathia for two starts and the rest of the first half. About three hours after that they lost Andy Pettitte for at least six weeks. Then on Thursday night they lost a game in which they had a two-run lead entering the ninth inning because of some terrible bullpen management from Joe Girardi.
June has been as good as it possibly could be for the Yankees, but with things unraveling for the best team in baseball on consecutive days and with seven games against the Rays and Red Sox next week, an email discussion with WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti (the Voice of Reason) became necessary.
Keefe: I’m guessing you’re expecting this email. Actually I know you are since you answered my initial email with a reply of “You’re in full panic mode aren’t you?” The answer is “sort of,” and the only really the answer isn’t a full-fledged, five-alarm “YES!!!” is because the Yankees have a five-game lead in the division over the Orioles, the Rays are 5-11 in their last 16 and 6 1/2 games back, and the Red Sox, while somewhat hot are also 6 1/2 games back. But with seven games against the Rays and Red Sox next week, my “sort of” has a very good chance of becoming a “yes” before the All-Star break, which isn’t good since I’m assuming your office is closed over the break. So that four-day stretch without Yankees baseball might feel like 40 days.
Wednesday was about as bad as things could get for the Yankees with their top two starters going down with injuries in the matter of about three hours. No CC Sabathia for two starts and the rest of the first half, which means no CC Sabathia for the three-game series in Tampa or the four-game series in Boston. And no Andy Pettitte for at least six weeks, which would mean the beginning of August if we’re lucky. That means that right now the Yankees’ rotation is Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Adam Warren. (This is the part where you offer me a drink.)
I would think that you are going to tell me that things aren’t that bad because of the Yankees’ current lead, but that lead could be dented or erased next week against the Rays and Red Sox on the road. And while Sabathia’s injury doesn’t seem like that much of a concern, the Pettitte one is since his importance to the rotation and his presence and the Yankees’ success since he joined the team has been maybe the most important storyline of the season.
So go ahead and tell me not to panic even though I’m not sure how I’m not supposed to.
Murti: Well, Neil, I had a feeling this was a critical moment for you. I had visions of you breaking into the liquor cabinet and downing a bottle of whiskey. Let me see if I can help.
Losing Pettitte hurts. He came back just as he left off, maybe even better, so it had to make the Yankees feel good about the way they were set up with both him and Sabathia at the top of the rotation. This is such a huge blow to lose both at the same time. Am I making you feel better yet?
Ok, here you go. Remember how well Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova have pitched over the last month? Well, they’re still allowed to do that. In fact, Sabathia and Pettitte getting hurt have absolutely nothing to do with their performances on a given night. All three have given the Yankees consistent performances, so that needs to continue and the Yankees will be able to withstand this bump in the road. It’s only a bump because Sabathia will be back in short order. If his injury were more serious this would be a much more concerning problem. If the worst-case scenario is that Sabathia only misses two starts, I don’t see anything wrong with that, even if it means bringing one of your all-time favorites – Freddy Garcia – back into the rotation.
Pettitte’s loss is hard to overcome, but remember that the Yankees lost Pettitte for two months in 2010, and that rotation still had other Keefe favorites like A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez in the middle of it. Those Yankees managed to win 95 games. This team is capable, it just means expecting the other three starters to maintain their consistency.
Does that help?
Keefe: Eh, I guess it helps a little, but not as much as you probably hoped it would, or as much as I hoped it would.
Even though you said Kuroda, Nova and Hughes are “still allowed” to pitch the way they have been it doesn’t mean they will. It also means they are still allowed to resort back to the way they were pitching earlier in the year when we wondered if Kuroda belonged in the AL, if Nova was going to endure a sophomore slump and if Hughes’ was really meant to be in the bullpen. But I like your optimism, and I’m going to run with it.
However, my optimism ends with Freddy Garcia. We can talk all we want about the nice job he has done out of the bullpen, but now that he’s a starter, let’s talk about what he has done as a starter, and it’s something I need to pour another drink for before we do.
April 10 @ BAL: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 HR
April 16 vs. MIN: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HR
April 20 @ BOS: 1.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
April 28 vs. DET: 1.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR
When you add all of those up, you get the following line: 13.2 IP, 25 H, 20 R, 19 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 3 HR, 12.51 ERA, 2.195 WHIP.
Garcia is likely to get two starts with Sabathia out and those starts look like they are going to come against Tampa Bay and Boston, the Yankees’ direct threats. (Let me fill up again.) I don’t know if I can sit through another Freddy Garcia at Fenway Park start.
Brian Cashman likes to say that starting pitching is the key to the kingdom, and if he believes in that then maybe it’s time to go to Home Depot and get some copies made. I know I’m out of line for complaining about the best team in baseball, but that was before the front end of the rotation went down. Tell me Matt Garza could be in pinstripes. And if you’re really feeling nice, tell me Cole Hamels will be a Yankee, or possibly my long lost obsession Cliff Lee.
Murti: Well, would it be too much to ask for all three? Maybe they can send each team a few signed balls, and some HOPE Week T-shirts?
Right now all I will tell you is that Adam Warren will be in pinstripes, and Freddy Garcia is still in pinstripes.
The first move is always to try to fix the problems from within. It might actually work, you know. It’s just about holding the fort, and if you think the Yankees will win 23 out of 30 the rest of the year, you’re nuts. Deal with a little market correction and don’t think that means you have to get an All-Star pitcher after each game you lose.
The Yankees would need to have one helluva bad month between now and the trading deadline, I think, in order to pull the trigger on the type of deals you are talking about. If the rotation had completely fallen apart (meaning nobody was pitching well at all) then I would think the Yankees would have no choice but to make a major move. They will keep tabs on everyone, but at this point I wouldn’t think the Yankees would be players for a starter like that.
Freddy Garcia is not going to be Andy Pettitte, but he has thrown the ball better lately and the Yankees will give him a chance. Garcia admitted Thursday that his arm strength was down in April and that he had very little ammunition against the hitters he was facing. His confidence seems much better now, and the Yankees will see what they can get out of him.
Actually, now that I think about it maybe the Yankees can pull off a deal with Pittsburgh. A.J. Burnett is 9-2. I think he’d be a perfect fit here, don’t you?
Keefe: A.J. Burnett is enticing. Maybe we can trade for him then give him a five-year deal for $82.5 million and outbid ourselves and then pay the remainder of his contract to play for someone else. I think that sounds like a plan!
I didn’t say we needed an All-Star pitcher after each loss, but I would like a little upgrade. (Yes, again that’s me complaining about the roster of the team with the best record in baseball.) You would still tell me everything is OK if Sidney Ponson or Darrell Rasner or Matt DeSalvo were starting one of the doubleheader games next weekend at Fenway. But since you aren’t onboard with my plan of trying to put the team in the best position to succeed in a five-game series.
Let’s talk about the other part of the pitching on the team and that’s the makeshift bullpen. I get on Joe Girardi for a lot of things, and yes they are all warranted, but I have to give him credit for the way he manages the bullpen. It’s the one thing he does exceptionally well. Well I guess it’s the second thing he does exceptionally well if you include giving unnecessary rest to Derek Jeter in the opening series of the in favor of Eduardo Nunez. (Yes, I’m still harping on that.)
Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley have been the 24th and the 25th players on the rosters (to steal a line from you) and they have been outstanding. Cory Wade has been solid and I finally have confidence and nearly have trust in Boone Logan. OK, that last sentence might be a sign that I have had too much to drink.
At the start of the season I complained to you about roster spots being handed out willy-nilly to undeserving guys and they have stepped up. Has this been the most important part to the Yankees’ success?
Murti: Let’s just keep in mind that the worst year you have lived through as a Yankees fan for the last two decades is a year in which they won 89 games. And if they had the second wildcard in 2008, the Yankees would have been in the playoffs. No, that wasn’t a very good team, but I hate to think what kind of therapy you would be in if you were a fan of some other team.
The bullpen has been outstanding, yet I notice that you have chosen to give all the credit to Girardi and none to Brian Cashman, who signed Wade and Rapada, claimed Eppley off waivers, and of course traded for Logan. David Robertson was drafted and developed by the Yankees. Soriano? Well, I guess we can thank Hal Steinbrenner for that one.
The most important part? I would still argue that it’s the improvements made by Kuroda, Hughes, and Nova. None of them pitched particularly well in the first month of the season. They have all pitched better, and the bullpen has worked well because they aren’t overused thanks to the strong starting pitching. Wade has hit a rough patch, and some of the others might too, but overall, this is as good as you could have hoped from the bullpen. Glad you have found a way to give someone some credit. Best record in baseball, remember?
Keefe: OK, I can give some credit to Brian Cashman too since this is a group project. One thing Cashman is good at is building a good bench and a good bullpen. (And the bullpen can get better when Joba Chamberlain and David Aardsma get healthy. This bullpen is that good without No. 42.) Now if we could just combine those abilities with someone who knows starting pitching then we could create quite the general manager.
I can’t help that I’m used to winning. Before 2008 the last time the Yankees missed the playoffs was 1993 and I was seven years old and it was the fall of second grade. Sorry, Mets fans.
Since we touched on potential trades before, let’s touch on them again. Brett Gardner is still out and has 28 at-bats this season. He has nearly come back twice only to get hurt even more and start his comeback and rehab from scratch. Now Gardner is expected to be out for a few more weeks, and who knows if when he is ready to come back that he actually will at this point.
Let’s go hypothetical here and look into the future, which I know you absolutely hate to do and cringe when I do. If Gardner suffers yet another setback and it’s around deadline time do the Yankees need to upgrade their left field situation or do they carry on with a platoon of Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Dewayne Wise and Jayson Nix?
Murti: Yes, I’ve said since Gardner’s last setback that I think they could use an everyday player for left field if he has another setback and is lost for a longer period. Ibanez and Jones have been the primary guys and have done well in Gardner’s absence. But with another half-season to go, I worry about their durability having to play the field. Not only that, Gardner is just better defensively, one of the best in the league, and it’s kind of a blow to this team to not have him out there. I do think it’s something they will have to think about if Gardner doesn’t come back as hoped in July.
Meanwhile, that drink is sounding pretty good right now after watching the Yankees flush a ninth-inning lead for only the third time this year. This one kind of got to me too, for some reason. Order me a rum and coke and I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.
Keefe: So Girardi decides to use Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada in the ninth before David Robertson? That makes a lot of sense. But it’s not that big of a deal because the Yankees aren’t going to Tampa Bay and Boston next week for seven games or anything.
There’s a good chance you might get called upon for an emergency session over the All-Star break when you’re on vacation. Hopefully you’re up to the task and you won’t throw a textbook double-play ball into center field. And just like that my glass is empty again.
Murti: I’m going to have to start setting a number, like 65 or 67. Until the Yankees lose that many games you aren’t allowed to complain to me the whole year. How well do you think that will work?
Keefe: I think 62 sounds better to me. And this is about the time I stop by the receptionist to schedule another appointment.
Murti: See you at the bar.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe
Follow Sweeny on Twitter @YankeesWFAN
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