By Ernie Palladino
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Injuries happen in every sport. And in every sport, those injuries offer opportunities to the next guy.
Unfortunately for the Yankees and Mets, they have many injuries, most of which have afflicted their pitchers. Whether the Yanks can remain in the AL East race after this All-Star break, or whether the Mets actually will achieve relevance in the second half has as much to do with those who have taken over for their fallen arms as the absence of the injured themselves.
Take the Yanks, for instance. Joe Girardi has to be pleased about rookie Shane Greene, a little-known, little-regarded right-hander who has compiled a 2-0, 1.32 ERA line. His last start came Saturday, a 3-0 gem against the first-place Orioles. Girardi couldn’t have asked for more as Greene went 7 1/3 innings and allowed four hits while striking out nine.
Girardi remarked smartly that all 2009’s 15th-round draft pick is doing is earning starts right now. But for a rotation that has now added Masahiro Tanaka to the sick list, along with CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, that’s quite enough. It’s a lot better to have it that way — one earned start at a time — than to simply be stuck in the corner, compelled to use an unsung rookie simply because there are no other options.
So Yankee fans have Greene now. For how long is anybody’s guess. But for the moment, he looks an awful lot like fellow rookie Chase Whitley when he came up as Sabathia’s replacement. Whitley’s initial brilliance hasn’t lasted, of course, but that’s the deal. Get a kid, hope he baffles the opposition for two or three starts, and then hang on as the league solves him and pray he’s savvy enough to adjust and keep his team in games.
It all comes down to the player taking advantage of his opportunity. Just like in football, the left guard goes down, next man up. If the coach is unlucky, that next guy is a drafted rookie. Well, the kid was drafted for a reason, so let’s see what he’s got.
If the coach is REALLY unlucky, the guy is an undrafted project who has shouted into a megaphone all season that he can play this game, that only team politics are keeping him down on the depth chart. OK, here’s your chance. Go play.
Good fortune certainly smiles if the kid works out. If he doesn’t, then the position goes down the tubes. If enough spots follow, then the season goes out the window.
Terry Collins is on the verge of that now, though the Mets starters have performed admirably for the most part. But the news is not good overall. Matt Harvey has resigned himself to something we already knew — that he won’t throw a pitch in anger this year as he still has several months of rehab ahead from Tommy John surgery. Jon Niese is on the DL with a strained left shoulder, making it impossible for Collins to count on him coming back in the near future.
His good news is that Dillon Gee will make his second start since returning from his injury in the team’s first post-break series against San Diego.
The better news is that rookie Jacob deGrom has pitched well in the face of these issues. The record stands at 3-5, but an ERA of 3.18 indicates he deserved better. He just capped that first-half performance with a seven-inning, one-run outing in the win over Miami Sunday, and he’s given up just six earned runs over his last 32 1/3 innings.
The Mets remain far from successful, of course. The clutch hitting of recent days has sparked a three-game winning streak and proved a nice respite to the offensive slog of the first half. They are on an upswing, and deGrom’s performance has had a little something to do with that.
The quest for relevance on the Mets’ end and a return to the postseason on the Yankees’ end will continue like this. As far as pitching goes, both teams had best hope that their youngsters, the guys replacing the injured stars, continue to earn their starts.
Do that first, and the won-loss records will follow.
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