With the uncertainty surrounding Phil Hughes health, the Yanks may be left with a gaping hole in their rotation. To recap: after Andy Pettitte announced his retirement, Hughes was widely regarded as the Yankees #2 starter, behind ace CC Sabathia. Near the end of Spring Training, Joe Girardi announced that AJ Burnett would take the number two spot. At the time, the move was seen as bolstering Burnett’s questionable psyche. The Yanks broke camp with a rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes, rookie Ivan Nova and veteran Freddy Garcia.
Fast forward a month and we’re left with the mind-numbing reality that Hughes is hurt and tried to pitch through it. The results were, in a word, awful. 10 1/3 innings over three starts, allowing 23 baserunners and 16 runs (all earned).
Aside from Sabathia, the other starters still have major question marks. We’ve seen good Aprils before from Burnett, only to watch him fall apart as the season progresses. Right now, his ERA (3.52) is in-line with his career numbers, but that may not be good news: April is his best career month and his ERA progressively worsens until August. Garcia has been lights out so far, but he is an old 35 with a history of arm problems and the weather is warming. Those routine flyballs are about to start going a lot further. Nova has been basically what you expected – a good pitcher for 5 or so innings; then the wheels start to come off. By the second half, once the league has seen him, he may not even get through those 5 innings. Bartolo Colon has stepped in quite nicely so far, with 3.50 ERA over 18 innings. Questions remain regarding his durability, though: this is the first time he’s pitched in two years and he hasn’t tossed more than 99 innings since 2005.
The bullpen is already showing signs of overuse. The pen has thrown 37% of the team’s innings and combined for 64 appearances, in just 20 games. That pace is unsustainable – especially if Rafael Soriano continues to impersonate a piñata every time he takes the mound.
There aren’t any good options available at the moment. Kevin Millwood lurks in the minors, but hasn’t impressed anyone. Since his contract allows an opt-out if he isn’t on the 25 man roster by May 1, it is possible the team makes a minor move by optioning Lance Pendleton and bringing Millwood up. Carlos Silva is also toiling for minor league pay at the moment. Realistically, though, neither of those pitchers can be counted on to replace Hughes’ production. If the Yanks are at the trading deadline with the current rotation mess, they can expect to be held to a king’s ransom for even a middling pitcher – and to have to trade away the farm if they want to make a play for whatever ace is available.
So, the best option is for Hughes to get healthy and regain his form from the first half of last year. And for the Yankees to pray that this isn’t Chien-Ming Wang redux.