By Ernie Palladino
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Thank goodness for Masahiro Tanaka. Without him, who knows where the Yankees would be right now.
Where they’ll be in another month is quite a different story. That beautiful rotation they started the season with has turned into quite a shambles, what with CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda all on the DL. The only two who are coming back are Sabathia, who was set to take a cortisone shot in a degenerative right knee Thursday, and Pineda, who is on the shelf with a right shoulder blade issue.
With Nova out for the season with Tommy John surgery, the Yanks can only play the waiting game for Sabathia and Pineda, and then cross their fingers and pray for some long-term heartiness. Until those two get back, gentlefolks like Thursday night’s Subway Series finale starter Chase Whitley, making his debut after transitioning from reliever to starter in the minors, will have to serve as stopgaps.
All that is fine, too, except it probably won’t lead to long-term success. So, assuming the rotation remains in flux because of injuries and fast-advancing age, the Yanks may just have to look outside for some help come midseason.
Not that the Yanks haven’t pulled off a trade or two in the past as the July 31 trade deadline loomed. But this year such a move may prove even more important as they push to return to the playoffs after a failed 2013 season. Their 21-19 mark doesn’t offer much optimism, but it is still early, after all. Still, one can’t help but think that if the Yanks sit anywhere near a playoff spot just after the All-Star break, they’ll at least try to wheel and deal for a starting arm.
If the Phillies’ Cliff Lee, the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and Arizona’s Bronson Arroyo tickle your fancy, you might want to drop Brian Cashman a line about packaging a prospect or two for a short-term rental.
Until then, they’ll have to ride Tanaka, a guy who, at 6-0 and 2.17, seemingly couldn’t lose if he wanted to. His four-hitter in a 4-0 victory Wednesday was nothing short of dominant, making that $175 million of total expenditure to lure Tanaka out of Japan appear worth every penny.
Joe Girardi termed Tanaka “as valuable as anyone on our team.” Considering the state of the rotation, however, the bar hasn’t been set high. Perhaps Girardi was simply looking down the road, as David Phelps, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vidal Nuno were set to follow Whitley’s Subway Series debut with weekend starts against the Pirates. Nuno has been particularly inconsistent, beginning his starting role well with five innings of shutout ball in Tampa in an April 20 no-decision, and then dipping for two games before throwing 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in his only win May 7 in Anaheim.
He took a beating Tuesday against the Mets, allowing five earned runs on four hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.
They can’t all be Tanaka. Phelps isn’t. Nuno certainly isn’t. Even Kuroda hasn’t looked like the Kuroda of the first part of 2013.
Unless Sabathia and Pineda come back strong from their injuries, there remains a good possibility that the Yanks will be shopping around the trade deadline.
Then, they’ll need to hope that whatever help comes hasn’t arrived too late.
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