Assuming a 11-man pitching staff in the postseason, the Yankees will have to trim two pitchers who played fairly significant roles during the regular season. They’ll trim a six-man rotation down to four, and if they move both leftover starters into the bullpen, there won’t be much room left.
CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson, Mariano Rivera
Making his case: Phil Hughes
Most likely, Hughes has a spot locked up. The question is whether that spot will come in the rotation or the bullpen. Hughes hasn’t pitched in relief this season, but he’s had great bullpen success in the past. His overall numbers out of this year’s rotation are ugly, but he’s looked much better lately, including a 2.25 ERA in two September starts. He could slide into a versatile bullpen role – capable of long relief or key late-inning outs — or he could be a pivotal starter in the middle of the postseason rotation.
Veteran in an unusual spot: A.J. Burnett
Actually, after last year, Burnett’s spot isn’t all that unusual. It just seems unusual given his contract and his raw talent. Burnett could once again be crowded out of the postseason rotation, and if he is, he could slide into something of a mop-up role. Or, if the Yankees lose faith completely, he could fall out of the mix completely. What’s keeping Burnett in the mix – possibly for a rotation spot – are two good outings in the month of September, including one strong start against the Red Sox. After Tuesday’s three-inning dominance, Burnett is a true wild card on this staff.
New guy with a chance: Hector Noesi
Pushed into the big league bullpen out of necessity, the rookie Noesi has become the Yankees go-to long man, and he’s pitched well in that role. He’s done nothing to lose his spot – he had a 1.46 ERA in his past eight outings before a rough one last Wednesday — but the possibility of moving two starters into the bullpen leaves little room for another long-man, or any sort of reliever for that matter. Noesi has pitched well, but he could be crowded out of the mix in the postseason.
Role players to consider: Luis Ayala, Aaron Laffey
Ayala’s already had a larger impact than anyone might have imagined when he signed a minor league deal this offseason. He’s been with the team since Opening Day – except for a brief disabled list stint – and he’s pitched to a 1.80 ERA, but he’s still a low-man in the pecking order, and he’s not stretched out enough to be a true long man. Laffey could give the Yankees a second left-hander, and they’ve been giving him some opportunities, but he hasn’t been overwhelming since coming over from Seattle.
The rotation will be decided in these last two weeks. I think Sabathia, Nova and Garcia have the strongest holds on starting spots, but only Sabathia is an absolute guarantee. I think it’s too early to guess at the rotation, but I think an 11-man pitching staff will have the same names regardless of which four are labeled as starters. I think Hughes and Burnett will both be on the staff, with Noesi, Ayala and Laffey let out of the mix.
Associated Press photos