If Masahiro Tanaka is completely healthy by the time the Toronto Blue Jays arrive in the Bronx for Opening Day on April 6th, it’s safe to say that he will be slated as the starter.
Tanaka, who had been rehabbing a torn UCL in his right elbow, is expected to start for the New York Yankees in a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves on March 12th.
If Tanaka gets the nod, it would be the first time since 2008 that a player not named C.C. Sabathia started on Opening Day. For the record, Sabathia is 0-3 in his six career Opening Day starts for the Yankees.
Speaking of, Sabathia came into spring training roughly 30 lbs heavier than his recorded weight of 275 lbs last spring. However, when asked about the weight gain, Sabathia said, “I feel like this is a good weight. I feel a little stronger. I feel my legs under me, being a lot stronger, and being able to push off the mound.”
Keeping that in mind, a healthy, more powerful Sabathia bodes well for both the Yankees and the southpaw. As he only played in eight games last season, Sabathia needs to pitch deep into the season, barring the occasional setback with his knees.
Assuming Tanaka and Sabathia are completely healthy come April, Joe Girardi has the number one and number two pitchers in the starting rotation on lock. If Tanaka returns to his dominant form and Sabathia learns to pitch instead of throw, the Yankees might actually have one of the best righty-lefty combos in the majors.
Unfortunately, aside from those two pitchers, the remaining three men in the rotation are in question.
The Yankees are blessed with a problem that most teams wished they had, which is choosing three men out of six that could potentially start every fifth game. The candidates for the last three spots are Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, and Ivan Nova.
In terms of balancing out the arms in the rotation, Chris Capuano is the only lefty in that bunch. Capuano, who is a 13-year veteran and a former All-Star, would presumably take on the fourth or fifth starting spot. His game is predicated on finesse and delivery, rather than throwing 95 MPH fastballs.
Capuano would give Girardi the huge advantage of having two quality left-handed starters in the rotation, an attribute that few teams in the league can boast. He has the ability to go out and throw a solid six-plus innings with a 3.00 ERA, which would be fantastic for the lower end of the rotation.
Then we have Michael Pineda, who had a great, albeit short, season in 2014. Although he went 5-5, his ERA was a minuscule 1.89. The Yankees know of his injury-proneness, which is a question mark on his part. However, Pineda gives the Yankees a 95 MPH fastball and a nasty slider, both being reasons why the Yankees traded for him in the first place. Expect Pineda to lock up the third spot in the rotation, giving the Yankees a righty-lefty-righty beginning to their rotation.
Now comes Girardi’s biggest decision: Who will man the last spot in the starting rotation among Warren, Rogers, Nova, and Eovaldi?
Eovaldi’s pitching makeup seems like the more ideal for the Yankees, someone who can throw up to 97 MPH with a good mix of breaking balls. He’s only 25 and has such a promising upside that the Yankees wouldn’t be able to afford not giving him the opportunity.
Eovaldi’s record with the Marlins wasn’t impressive; he went 6-14 with a 4.37 ERA. However, he did throw 199 innings and he has a strikeout-walk ratio of about 3.3:1, which would rank 13th in the league last season. Also, he was on the Miami Marlins, the team that was 16th in the league in runs scored.
But then there’s Adam Warren, a product of the Yankees farm system. Warren pitched out of the bullpen last season and did a fine job, having a sub-3.00 ERA in 69 games. Just recently, Warren threw an impressive two shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in a spring training game.
Ivan Nova is slated to return mid-May from Tommy John surgery, which could shake up the entire rotation. Esmil Rogers has started 43 games on four teams altogether. It seems like the Yankees can’t really go wrong with any of these pitchers.
So why not just start off the season with a six-man rotation?
For one, Masahiro Tanaka would be reverting to his Japan days, in which he pitched every six days. It’s clear that after going 30-0 in the Nippon Baseball League, the extra day to pitch might have been beneficial in terms of rest.
For another, there’s really no concrete reason as to how six days between starts would be any different than five days. An extra day of rest could help Sabathia recover between starts, as his knees have been a constant problem in recent memory.
The Yankees also have far too much talent to simply delegate three out of those four to the bullpen. Eovaldi could easily be a starter alongside Warren. Nova could definitely be a starter alongside Esmil Rogers.
With Nova entering the mix mid-May, the Yankees are much better off starting the season with a six-man rotation. If an Opening Day starting rotation consisted of Tanaka, Sabathia, Pineda, Capuano, Eovaldi and Warren, it would be easier for Nova to simply replace either Eovaldi or Warren in the rotation. It would also allow him an extra day between starts to rest his shoulder.
In today’s baseball society, keeping pitchers healthy is the main priority of all organizations. Over the last five seasons, there have been 36 cases of Tommy John surgery in the majors, which is an alarming statistic. Arms are being worn down too easily, and the pitch count factor hasn’t seemed to help.
Granted, the drawback of a six-man rotation would be that Tanaka Time becomes delayed by a day. However, it seems obvious that Yankees fans would rather a healthy Tanaka go an entire season than a Tanaka that re-injures his arm due to a heavy workload.
For the sake of preventing injuries to both Sabathia and Tanaka, the Yankees should at least attempt a six-man rotation until Ivan Nova returns from injury. Whether it will work or not is up for debate, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.