With 60 percent of their supposed-to-be starting pitchers on the disabled list since early May, the Yankees rotation has actually held together pretty well. Masahiro Tanaka has been the best starter in the American League, Chase Whitley has been a revelation, and both David Phelps and Hiroki Kuroda have been perfectly solid (and occasionally terrific). The Yankees have essentially a league-average rotation ERA, which is pretty good all things considered.
But the fact Vidal Nuno is going to make his next start seems to be an indication that the Yankees believe they have run out of alternatives.
“This is what we have,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s not like there’s just starting pitchers lying around out there. We’ve talked about that, and our guys have done a pretty good job. They really have. He’ll continue to go out there and compete and we’ll do the best we can.”
Today’s three home run disappointment was hardly Nuno’s worst start of the year — and as Girardi pointed out, four earned runs in 6.1 innings is perfectly winable some nights — but it’s part of a pattern that’s so far exposed Nuno as the weak link in a pieced together rotation. He has a 5.88 ERA, the Yankees have lost six of his past eight starts, and Nuno hasn’t gotten a win since May 7. He’s been especially bad at home, where he’s allowed 13 of his 15 total home runs this season.
“The second and third time around, they get the feel for (the fastball) or stuff like that,” Nuno said. “And then sometimes I leave it up a little bit and they take advantage of it. Yeah, it’s frustrating just knowing that I’m not getting the job done, but overall how I see my stuff today is improvement of my other starts.”
Alternatives exist, but each comes with its own concerns and complications.
1. Adam Warren is perhaps the best solution, but he’s not stretched out, and getting him stretched out would take time and cost the Yankees a valuable setup man (at a time when Shawn Kelley seems unreliable since coming off the disabled list. Another major league reliever, Jose Ramirez, is also not stretched out and was converted to a reliever this year because of injury concerns.
2. Shane Greene has a 5.77 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in Triple-A and has been unable to build on last year’s breakout season in Double-A. Another 40-man prospect, Bryan Mitchell, has been similarly unimpressive in Double-A (he was just bumped to Triple-A despite back-to-back five-run starts with Trenton).
3. Manny Banuelos is surely the Yankees most highly touted upper-level pitching prospect, but he’s been limited to three innings at a time in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Also, reports out of Trenton have not been particularly encouraging.
4. Minor league veterans Bruce Billings and Alfredo Aceves have not been overly impressive (Aceves was just DFA and cleared waivers). Other experienced veterans Brian Gordon and Chris Leroux have been released and placed on the disabled list respectively.
5. Current long man David Huff has made six major league starts in the past three years, has thrown more than 38 pitches only once this season, and has a 5.63 season ERA that’s only slightly lower than Nuno’s.
For now, the Yankees seem prepared to stick with Nuno, while waiting for either a trade or an injury recovery.
“Right now this is our rotation and this is what it will be,” Girardi said. “We’ll just continue to plow forward, and hopefully (CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda’s) rehabs get going and you get some guys off the DL that are coming back. But right now, this is what it is.”
• Mentioned it on Twitter earlier, but it’s worth posting here as well: Pineda’s MRI revealed lingering inflammation in that muscle near his right shoulder. He was supposed to play catch today, but that’s been pushed back a week. “He’s still has a trace of inflammation,” Girardi said. “So they’ll give him one more week off and he’ll start throwing next Saturday.”
• This was Nuno’s second three-homer game of the season. He also allowed three home runs May 30 against Oakland (also at Yankee Stadium). “When he makes mistakes, they’re hitting it out of the ballpark,” Girardi said. “He’s somewhat of a fly ball pitcher, in a sense, so when you make mistakes up in the middle of the zone, it’s probably going to leave the park here.”
• If there’s a Nuno bright side, I suppose it’s the fact he hasn’t walked a ton of guys. He has 29 strikeouts and seven walks in his past seven starts. In those save seven starts, he’s allowed 10 home runs.
• Nuno said that today’s problem was his fastball. He said it wasn’t that he went to it too often, it was that he didn’t locate it when he had to. “Just leaving it in certain spots,” he said. “If they see a fastball, this is a fastball hitting team. I try to sneak it by them and try to come up or go away with it, and pretty much these porches are short, and it’s part of the game that’s frustrating at times. When they get the ball up in the air, they have a chance to get it out.”
• This isn’t unusual for a young starter, but Nuno said that he considers his job to be on the line “every time, every inning.” Does that weigh on him? Is that affecting his outings? “No, you guys make it (seem that way),” Nuno said. “You guys make it (seem) that it is. I go out there and always have fun, always try to give my all, and the outcome is sometimes not positive. But how I see it at the end of the day, I trust all the pitches and I trust the catchers that throw the signs. I’m throwing with conviction and, pretty much, I’m going to get there. But this is the big leagues, and pretty much when you leave something a little bit up, a tick off, they’re going to hit it. And sometimes they’re going to hit it far and hit a home run.”
• This was Francisco Cervelli’s first start since April 13 when he hurt his hamstring. He was 1-for-3, singling in his first at-bat for his first hit since April 8 (also against Baltimore).
• Brian Roberts went 2-for-4 and is batting .350 with three runs, three walks and a .435 on-base percentage in his past six games.
• Mark Teixeira’s solo homer was his 150th as a Yankees. He’s homered 12 times this season, which is the most on the team. He now has a 10-game hitting streak, which is his longest since hitting in 12 straight in 2010.
• I’ll post more about this later tonight, but the Yankees honored Tino Martinez with a Monument Park plaque prior to today’s game. The text of Martinez’s plaque: Known for his powerful bat and superlative defense at first base, Martinez was a fan favorite on four Yankees world championship teams. Hit two of the most memorable home runs in Yankees postseason history – a grand slam in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series and a game-tying, ninth-inning homer in Game 4 of the 2001 Fall Classic. Amassed 192 home runs and 739 RBI in seven seasons with the club.
• Don’t forget tomorrow is Old-Timers’ Day. Ceremonies begin at 11:30 a.m.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You never want to lose, that’s the bottom line. That’s why we play the game. But you know you’re going to have games like this. We still have a chance to win the series, and that’s your goal going in, so you go into tomorrow with a positive attitude.”
Associated Press photos