The Yankees have already decided to put Clay Rapada on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis. It also seems likely that Phil Hughes will spend at least a few days on the disabled list while the Yankees wait for him to get stretched out for his first start, which won’t come until April 6 at the earliest.
With or without Hughes, it seems safe to assume David Phelps will make the roster in one role or another, which means 10 pitchers seem to be safe bets to break camp with the Yankees:
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Boone Logan, David Aardsma, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson, Mariano Rivera
With Rapada heading to the disabled list, and Hughes likely to do the same, there are two open bullpen jobs and eight healthy candidates still in big league camp.
RHP Shawn Kelley
Joined the Yankees in a relatively minor trade earlier this spring. He’s already on the 40-man roster — which is helpful — and he was pretty solid for the Mariners last season. He was off to very good and very overlooked start this spring, but in his past three outings Kelley has allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks through three innings.
RHP Cody Eppley
The most familiar face among the candidates, Eppley was claimed off waivers last spring and wound up spending most of the year as a groundball-inducing, right-on-right specialist for the Yankees. He was pretty good in a pretty limited role, and last season might be enough to make him a favorite this season if not for his brutal spring. Opponents are hitting .406 against him. He does have nine strikeouts in 6.2 innings, but he also has a 2.55 WHIP
RHP Jim Miller
Quietly having a nice spring. Opponents are hitting just .188 against Miller, and much of his 1.18 WHIP comes from his five walks in 9.1 innings. Miller has better spring numbers than either Kelley or Eppley — and he also had pretty solid, middle-of-the-bullpen numbers last year in Oakland — but he doesn’t have a 40-man spot. If this is a week-long role until Hughes comes back, it might be easier and more logical to just take a guy who’s already on the roster, especially considering the current roster crunch.
RHP Preston Claiborne
I was fully ready to dismiss Claiborne as a player inevitably heading to Triple-A — and I still suspect that’s going to happen — but he’s actually had a really nice spring. Granted, he’s pitched a lot of late innings against borderline big leaguers, but Claiborne has 10 strikeouts and three walks through 9.2 innings. Opponents are hitting .231 against him, and he’s allowed just one base runner in his past three outings. He made 20 Triple-A appearances last season, and he’s been sneaky good this spring.
RHP Branden Pinder
Probably a more obvious demotion candidate than Claiborne, Pinder has oddly walked just one batter but hit three of them this spring. He’s been solid across the board with a 1.20 WHIP, but he has just one game above High-A, so it’s hard to think he’s a legitimate candidate for a big league spot. He’s still around to eat an inning here and there. Not a bad prospect, though.
LHP Vidal Nuno
A true spring training discovery for some people, Nuno was pretty far off the radar even after his terrific numbers in Double-A last year. This spring, Nuno’s been terrific while working almost exclusively as a starter. He has 13 strikeouts, four walks and a 0.95 WHIP through 13.2 innings, which doesn’t count his four scoreless against the Yankees while pitching an exhibition for Team Dominican Republic. He really hadn’t struggled this spring until yesterday when he was brought into the middle of an inning and promptly walked lefty Kelly Johnson before allowing an RBI single to Ben Zobrist.
LHP Josh Spence
Another pitcher who’s spring numbers might be surprising. Nuno has gotten most of the left-handed buzz, but Spence has a 0.78 WHIP this spring. He’s struck out five, walked one and allowed five hits through 7.2 innings. His past two outings, Spence was brought in specifically to face a lefty, and each time he got the out. That’s something Nuno wasn’t able to do last time out.
LHP Juan Cedeno
Coming off a solid year in Triple-A, Cedeno left the Yankees to play in the World Baseball Classic, where he hardly pitched. He’s been gone most of the spring, and has been pretty easily overshadowed by both Nuno and Spence.
One more thing … It’s worth noting that, of these eight candiates, only Nuno is stretched out as a long reliever. If the Yankees have to open the season with Phelps as a starter, they’ll need a true long man. If that’s not Nuno, it might not be out of the question that the Yankees will carry Adam Warren, who’s been technically optioned to Triple-A but has yet to actually go across the street to the complex.
Associated Press photos