For the second straight day, Phil Hughes has had his start pushed back due to back spasms. Hector Noesi will start in his place in the first game of a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays, and he’ll be good for about 50-60 pitches.
“He’s still not where he needs to be,” manager Joe Girardi said of Hughes. “We talked about maybe trying to throw a bullpen between games, but we’ll see about that as the day goes on. He’s still not ready to go.”
Girardi said that Hughes is in much better shape than he was over the weekend, but still not at the point where he would feel comfortable putting him on the mound.
“He’s better,” Girardi said. “If you saw him on Saturday, he wasn’t walking around very well. He’s gotten better, but he just hasn’t gotten to the point (where he needs to be). A starting pitcher has to have flexibility in his back, or he’s going to be standing straight up and he’s not going to be able to throw the ball the way he wants. He is improving everyday.”
The bullpen should be in for a lot of work in the first game, with Noesi unlikely to get past the fourth inning. The big name that everyone wants to see is prospect Dellin Betances, who is still yet to make his major league debut. Andrew Brackman, George Kontos and Raul Valdes are other candidates to get some work after being used sparingly in past few weeks.
“I feel good about it, because our bullpen got some rest last night, and we have some guys who can give us some distance down there if we do need them,” Girardi said. “They haven’t been called on to pitch in awhile, but if we do need them we can use them.”
The concern with Hughes moving forward is whether or not the Yankees will get to see him pitch again before the end of the regular season. He’s been effective in his last two starts, going six innings in each while allowing a combined three earned runs. With the playoff rotation very much up in the air after CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, Girardi would like to see Hughes again to determine if he belongs.
“In the long term, I’m not concerned about Hughsie’s health; I’m not,” Girardi said. “I’ve had back spasms numerous times in my career, and they go away, and there’s no rhyme or reason why they come sometimes. A lot of times they’ll stay away for years. In the short term, we want him to pitch again, so that’s a concern. We worry about fatigue with some of our older guys, but our guys have found a way to get it done all year long. I believe they’ll continue to do it.”
Last time I was here, we discussed what the postseason rotation should look like. We had CC in Game 1 and Nova in Game 2, and at the time it seemed that Freddy Garcia was the most likely candidate for Game 3. But Garcia has struggled in his last three starts. He hasn’t made it past the fifth inning since August, and has allowed two home runs in each of his past three starts.
Bartolo Colon pitched a gem against the Angels on Sept. 9, but couldn’t make it out of the fifth against Toronto in his last start. And AJ Burnett, well, we know the story there.
So, who’s your No. 3 right now?
Here are some other notes from Girardi’s press conference:
• With a win in either of today’s games, the Yankees will clinch a playoff spot. With two wins and a Boston loss, the Yankees clinch the division. There’s a good chance that champagne will flow at some point today, it’s just a matter of when. Girardi was asked about the potential awkwardness of celebrating between games, with the implication being that you’re not going to want players getting boozed up before they have to play another game. “I want them to let out when they have an ability to let things out. Obviously, we have to be careful about what we do in between games, but we’ll see,” he said with a laugh. “We haven’t really talked about it, and I don’t really have a general philosophy. I want the guys to just do what comes naturally. I think that’s important. These guys have worked extremely hard all year long, and we know what the goals are here.”
• Girardi was asked if he had considered pitching CC in the first game after the Hughes decision was made, but he said they wanted to stick with the original plan. “We had plans of pitching him in the second game,” he said. “We knew that if Phil had issues with his back that we were going to have to do this with our bullpen anyway, so it didn’t really matter.”
• Curtis Granderson, who is sitting for the first game, is heating up again. He’s homered three times in his last eight contests, and currently ranks second in the majors with a career-high 41 homers (that’s the most HR by a Yankee center fielder since Mickey Mantle hit 54 in 1961). He went 3 for 5 yesterday with four RBI, giving him 119 for the season, which leads the majors. With Boston limping down the stretch, the AL MVP race should probably come down to Grandy and Toronto’s Jose Bautista. “I just think that he’s gotten hot again,” Girardi said. “It’s kind of what he does. I think giving him a day off kind of helped him. Our guys were beat up in Toronto, even though we had that day off on Thursday. I think the day off really helped him, and I think it helped Tex. Grandy is a guy that sometimes all of a sudden it’s bang, bang, bang, and he puts up big numbers.”
• Girardi said that he has not decided on a rotation for the weekend yet, which is probably because he’s waiting to see what happens with Hughes. Bartolo Colon is set to finish the series against Tampa tomorrow, with Garcia, Burnett and Nova in line for starts against Boston if Hughes can’t go.
Tampa Bay lineup
Desmond Jennings LF
B.J. Upton CF
Evan Longoria 3B
Matt Joyce RF
Johnny Damon DH
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jose Lobaton C
Elliot Johnson 2B
Reid Brignac SS
James Shields P
Associated Press photos