Everyone knew heading into this season that the New York Yankees rotation was going to be a big question mark. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino could be the best top three of a rotation in the AL East just as easily as they could see a season riddled with injury and inning limits.
Nathan Eovaldi can be assumed to have the fourth rotation spot locked down, so the only question mark was who was going to step up and be the fifth starter.
Right now, it hasn’t been pretty finding out the answer.
Coming into Spring Training, the Yankees needed CC Sabathia to step up and claim hold of the fifth rotation slot. It would be a huge advantage (both literally and figuratively speaking) if CC could just get back to 70% of his former self and man the five hole of the rotation.
That hasn’t happened unfortunately. Sabathia made a strong impression this spring. He came to Tampa early after dealing with last season’s bout in rehab. He wrote a piece for The Players’ Tribune that helped a lot of people understand his struggles, and turn the anger of “abandoning” his team in their first postseason appearance in two years, to accepting their one time ace for who he is and has become. His first outing got everyone excited that perhaps he was back, tossing two innings of shutout ball and striking out two.
That’s where it essentially ends for the feel good part of Sabathia’s spring. His last three outings have been pretty darn abysmal. He’s allowed eight earned runs (12 all together) over 10.1 innings striking out just six while walking four. Not very impressive numbers even for the spring.
Ivan Nova has proven one thing over his tenure with the Yankees. He is both inconsistent and unpredictable. One would assume that Nova came into this spring with something to prove. The homegrown Yankee was the subject of many trade rumors all offseason and when the Yankees couldn’t get what they deemed enough value for the 29-year old righty, he was thrown into the competition for a rotation slot.
Nova came out strong and looked like he had the early edge for that fifth slot. He allowed just two earned runs in his first three starts, culminating with a dandy against the Boston Red Sox, striking out four and walking one over four innings.
Then the wheels came off and that inconsistency shined through yet again.
Nova has allowed 11 earned runs over his last nine innings pitched. His ERA rose from 2.00 to 5.50. He went from a 6:2 strikeout to walk ratio to a 7:6. His last outing, he was drilled for three home runs.
The Yankees brass already told Bryan Hoch that CC’s salary won’t factor into their final decision. Well, his pitching is certainly not helping his cause.
“CC has meant too much to this club, and Nova’s been here. It’s something that has to be well thought out, and we have to make a decision,” Yankees skipper Joe Girardi told Hoch. “The decision has to be made, but it’s not a permanent decision. I have the utmost respect for what CC has done in his career, what he’s done for us. So this is a tough decision.”
The decision gets tougher when one looks at who has really earned the fifth starter spot this spring. Bryan Mitchell just finished yet another promising performance against the Blue Jays, going four innings walking none and striking out four.
It almost seems like a no-brainer at this point. Mitchell — after Saturday’s performance against the Blue Jays — now has three consecutive outings without allowing a run OR a walk. You see, spring training isn’t always about the stats, but how the player looks. It doesn’t matter if it is January or April. If you aren’t walking anybody, you are throwing well.
Mitchell has now thrown 14.2 innings this spring with 11 strikeouts, one run allowed and one walk. He is outplaying just about every Yankees pitcher this spring. The 24-year old righty didn’t look incredibly sharp last season, but that doesn’t mean too much. Let’s be honest. Nova has looked sharp for a half a season over the past four years.
Girardi will be faced with a very tough decision. Will he really not look at the financial status of his roster in making his decision, or is there actually a possibility that the Yankees will have a middle reliever making $25-million? With several young arms itching to make their debut on the pipeline, where does Nova even fit in with the current Yankees? And how does one possibly tell Mitchell that he hasn’t earned the starting gig after his performance thus far?
Well, in just a little over one week’s time, we will all find out.