Thoughts On The Rotation Two Weeks From Opening Day

Masuhiro Tanaka A little over 2 weeks from right now, the Yankees will be on the road in Houston to open the 2014 regular season.  They'll be facing the immortal Scott Feldman, and barring anything unforeseen they will send CC Sabathia out for his 6th straight Opening Day start to counter.  That's one of the few definites in the starting rotation right now, and with 11 spring games left to sort out the rest, the big picture is starting to come into focus.  Some random thoughts on where the rotation stands 2 weeks from Opening Day.

- Unless you're still hung up on the velocity, there was reason to feel good about Sabathia's start in Panama.  The level of competition wasn't the greatest, sure, but it wasn't world class in his first 2 starts either.  The important takeaway was his command, which was much better than it had been and made life easier for CC by allowing him to work from ahead in the count.  If he can locate his 4-seamer (in the high 80s or low 90s) and start to mix in more cutters, that should be enough to set up his offspeed stuff.  That's all he should be trying to do with his fastball these days anyway, and the results on Sunday were a sign that he's starting to figure that out.

- I wouldn't be concerned at all about Hiroki Kuroda.  He got rained out yesterday and will not make the start up after getting bombed in his previous outing last week.  He still got his pitch count work in at the Tampax complex and he's experienced enough to know how to work out his mechanical problems.  The way everything was sitting up in the zone in his last start, I'd say it was that and nothing more.  Dude looked razor sharp in his first 2 starts.  No reason to worry.

- The rotation order for the rest of this week gives a pretty good idea of how the 5th starter competition is going.  Michael Pineda starts today, Ivan Nova tomorrow, David Phelps Thursday, CC Friday, and Masahiro Tanaka is lined up for Saturday.  No Adam Warren or Vidal Nuno this next time through, so it appears they're out of the running and ticketed for the bullpen and the SWB rotation respectively.

- That being the case, today's start for Pineda could carry a lot of weight.  Phelps didn't follow up his 5-inning shutout gem with another dandy on Friday, and the Red Sox lineup would be the best top-to-bottom group Pineda has faced this spring if they bring a good amount of regulars.  Pineda looked very good against Detroit's Major League hitters last week.  Another 3-4 innings of good fastballs and swing-and-miss sliders would push him ahead of Phelps.

- There will be 6 ST games remaining after this next turn, with the final off day of the spring scheduled for next Monday.  That's enough for each remaining pitcher to make 1 more start, but the Yanks also need to start lining up their rotation for Opening Day.  I imagine CC will get an extra day of rest with the off day after his Friday start and pitch next Thursday, with Hirok going on regular rest after him next Friday and Nova on Saturday to set them up for the Houston series.

- It'll be interesting to see what the Yanks do with Tanaka after his Saturday start.  They could have him throw a sim game or a MiL game to continue to work up his pitch count, but it looks like it will be tough to get him into another ST game without throwing off the rest schedule they've had him on.  Rothschild strongly hinted that Tanaka will start the 4th game of the regular season and Nova will start the 3rd, so Tanaka going to need some kind of game situation work before then.  Maybe the loser of the 5th starter competition gets booted from their scheduled start next Tuesday or Wednesday and everybody else moves up a day in the order.  That would give everybody an extra day of rest before the regular season starts, which wouldn't be a bad thing at all.

- I haven't had the chance to watch any of his outings, but from reading the firsthand accounts it sounds like Tanaka has had a different approach to each of his spring games.  First one was mostly fastballs, he had the start with all the GB outs, and his last one was offspeed-heavy.  To a certain degree, I'm sure every pitcher is doing this in ST, but it seems a little more pronounced with Tanaka, like he decides before he goes out there how he's going to pitch this game and sticks to that plan.  It's almost like he's putting his repertoire together piece-by-piece, and with the extra time off Joe's given him that should make it harder for opposing teams to have a complete book on him before the season starts.  Can't wait to see him put it all together and make that first start on April 4th.

(Photo courtesy of the AP)