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Questions on the last day of June

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Joe Girardi [2]

This is the last day of June, which means much of the next month will be spent talking about potential trade targets, which prospects are most valuable — yet expendable — and whether the Yankees should consider being sellers instead of buyers. Truth be told, that’s already a pretty steady part of the conversation, and has been for several weeks already.

For now, though, the Yankees questions aren’t limited to external options. They have a few internal questions to consider as well.

Phil Hughes [3]What’s the role of Ivan Nova?
This is the first one that comes to mind largely because of last night’s performance. What happens with Nova going forward? His trade value is probably fairly limited based on last year’s second half and the fact he was so rocky early this season that the Yankees shipped him to Triple-A. But Phil Hughes has been inconsistent, Andy Pettitte has battled back injuries, and David Phelps was just clobbered by the Orioles. Is it time to give Nova another shot as a regular member of the rotation? Can he help out of the bullpen? Should he be stretched out again in Triple-A? His ERA is now lower than either Phelps or Hughes.

Who else can bat cleanup against lefties?
Every time Vernon Wells starts at DH and bats fourth against a lefty, there’s a nearly universal groan. Surely there’s a better option. Thing is, there might not be. Zoilo Almonte has never been a particularly good right-handed hitter in the minors. Lyle Overbay hasn’t hit lefties at all this season. Travis Hafner has struggled against them too (and there’s some desire to rest him regularly to keep him healthy). That leaves guys like David Adams, Jayson Nix and Chris Stewart. Is there an outside-the-box solution (maybe a non-typical cleanup hitter like Ichiro)? Is it worth running Hafner out there every day? Can any of the limited Triple-A options provide a boost? Clearly Wells isn’t a great cleanup option, but who is on this roster?

Is Joba Chamberlain a reliable reliever?
Let’s face it, there are only a handful of truly “reliable” relievers in baseball, and the Yankees happen to have two of them in Mariano Rivera and Dave Robertson. Chamberlain, though, is supposed to be another go-to force in the late innings. Problem is, he’s been outpitched lately by Shawn Kelley and Preston Claiborne. Before pitching a strong eighth inning on Friday, Chamberlain had allowed 14 hits and nine runs in his past 6.2 innings, which spanned most of the month of June. “I really believe that he should be a big part of our bullpen,” Joe Girardi said. “He has that type of talent and he just hasn’t gotten going since he hurt that rib cage muscle, and hopefully yesterday was the start of something good.”

Have the Yankees really run out of immediately available alternatives?
There’s a solid chance that they have, but it’s certainly worth considering over and over again as long as the offense struggles like this. Brennan Boesch, Ronnier Mustelier and Corban Joseph are hurt — and not particularly close to a return, according to Girardi — but is that the end of the list? Is Thomas Neal worth another look when he’s eligible to be recalled (probably is, actually). Is it worth pulling J.R. Murphy out of a real breakout season to find out if he can bring some offense to the catcher position? Are any of the veteran minor league additions — Brent Lillibridge, Fernando Martinez, Randy Ruiz, Corey Patterson — potential upgrades for part-time jobs?

When is Michael Pineda going to be a viable option?
Today is his fifth rehab start, ad his second with Double-A Trenton. The numbers are good — one earned run with 11 strikeouts in 14.1 innings — and reports of a mid-90s fastball are encouraging, but what exactly does that mean? Pitching has been the Yankees unquestioned strength, but there’s little question about Pineda’s potential to be an impact arm. Hughes hasn’t been consistent, neither has Nova, and last night showed that Phelps isn’t quite a sure thing (despite an otherwise strong season). At some point, the Yankees are going to have to seriously consider whether their rotation might be even better with Pineda in it.

How quickly can the DL position players make progress?
This is the big one, isn’t it? The progress of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Francisco Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez could have a huge impact on the current roster and the trade deadline approach. Can these guys get back in time — and be productive enough — to keep the Yankees in the hunt and give a real reason to make a huge splash to chance a title? Are they going to be so limited — in terms of time and ability — that their return won’t mean much? Can Nunez be back next weekend? Can Rodriguez begin a rehab assignment this week? Can Granderson be back from the end of the month? They need the obvious offensive boost, and they need some clarity about what they actually have.

Associated Press photos