Eleven days from Opening Day, what’s the most pressing issue in Yankees camp?
“I think ironing out your pitching staff is a big one,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s half of your team. What happens to your rotation, and then what happens to your bullpen is a big thing.”
Five pitching decisions to make in the next week and a half…
1. Who’s the fifth starter?
It seems that Michael Pineda is the favorite, but David Phelps has pitched very well this spring (including last night’s strong start against the Red Sox). Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are still technically in the mix, but they definitely seem to be odd men out. “I’m starting to formulate what our rotation might be,” Girardi said. “But I don’t want to jump to too quick of a decision without having long discussions with our people, and I’m sure you could go around and ask anyone of our coaches or front office and they might have an opinion but their probably not going to share it at this point.”
2. Can a non-40-man pitcher make the cut?
It seems that five bullpen spots are set: Dave Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley and two of the fifth-starter candidates. For those last two openings, the Yankees have two left-handed candidates on the 40-man roster, and they have two obvious right-handed candidates on the 40-man (Dellin Betances has been terrific this spring; Preston Claiborne has struggled but pitched well in spurts last year). Beyond that, it can’t be overlooked that non-roster invitees Chris Leroux, Matt Daley, Jim Miller, David Herndon and Yoshinori Tateyama each have a WHIP of 1.00 or better this spring. Girardi said only that he’s “leaning” toward certain pitchers, but obviously he’s not going to make any announcement for a while.
3. Is there room for a second lefty?
Aside from the year when both Boone Logan and Clay Rapada were in the bullpen, the Yankees have not prioritized two lefties in recent years. This year, we know Thornton will be there. Is there also room for Vidal Nuno or Cesar Cabral (Fred Lewis has looked good, but he seems far more likely for Triple-A). Might depend on versatility. It’s hard to carry two guys who are strictly left-on-left pitchers. Might also depend on whether the Yankees want Nuno to stay stretched out in the minors. “I think we want to take the 12 best, and when I talk about the 12 best, you think about how you’re going to use them,” Girardi said. “Who fits the mold the best? That’s what you have to look at.”
4. How to handle the eighth inning?
The Yankees no longer have an obvious setup man. Now that Robertson has moved into the closer role, he’s left the eighth inning open to various combinations. Girardi has said that he envisions both Kelley and Thornton getting some opportunities in the eighth, but it also seems entirely possible that the setup role could evolve throughout the season. The Yankees aren’t just picking relievers, they’re basically picking candidates who could spend the first three or four weeks auditioning for a key role in the eighth. “Will it be as clear-cut as last year? Probably not,” Girardi said. “Not in the beginning.”
5. Which young guys have pitched their way onto the radar?
More than 12 guys will pitch for the Yankees this season, and given all of the guys who are pitching well this spring, quite a few are going to vying for those inevitable call-ups. Plenty of veterans have made an impression, but so have some young guys who could be in the mix eventually. You can bet Girardi won’t forget some of these early spring impressions. “We’ve had a lot of guys, some younger guys, that have shown real progress, too, in what they’re capable of doing,” Girardi said. “Whether it’s a (Danny) Burawa or a (Shane) Greene, they’ve shown that they’re getting pretty close and they’re knocking on the door. That gives me confidence.”
Associated Press photos