Discussion: Six-man rotation?

Yesterday, we heard Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggest that the Yankees may use six starters for a particularly tough stretch--30 games in 31 days--in April and May. Bryan Hoch's story later in the day included a clarifying quotation from Rothschild:

"It's a result of some of the stuff that's gone on over the last few years, not just here, but everywhere," Rothschild said. "We're aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches. Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren't going to be able to throw a lot, we're going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can."

My gut reaction to a six-man rotation in the past has always been aversion, and probably for good reason. Six-man rotations give a possibly fringy starter starts and they take starts away from the top pitchers in the rotation. However, the 2015 Yankee rotation is making me rethink things.

As it currently stands, we're looking at this for the rotation:

Masahiro Tanaka CC Sabathia Michael Pineda Nathan Eovaldi Chris Capuano

That is...not inspiring? If things break right, which is a rather big if, it could be a strong rotation, especially the top three. However, we all know that things usually don't break right in baseball, especially when all three of those guys have health concerns (an elbow, a knee, and a shoulder, oh my!) and missed significant time in 2014. There's also the distinct possibility that Capuano doesn't work out the way we want him to. Those factors are somewhat tipping me in the direction of the six-man rotation, at least at the start of the year.

The six-man rotation may rob Tanaka and Sabathia and Pineda of some starts over the course of the season, but given their gigantic injury potential, it might be wise to give them extra days off. And given Capuano's Chris Capuanoness, it might be worth it to give the sixth starter--Adam Warren? Bryan Mitchell? Esmil Rogers?--an audition period to take over for when the six-man rotation is no longer necessary. Granted, those names aren't the most confidence-inducing, either, which is another potential issue with the six-man rotation.

We should also take into account the strong Yankee bullpen as a reason why they could survive with a five-man rotation, even through a tough stretch if need be. But the other side of that coin is the bullpen getting worn out. Perhaps a sixth starter could help give them rest ever few days.

This would all be a lot better if the Yankees had one absolute sure thing in the rotation, but such is life. It may take some tinkering to get it to work and a six-man rotation could help do that. It's by no means a foolproof plan, but it's a definite possibility.

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Why players don't care about Michael Pineda's "dirt"

Bk6idBvIAAEsBRAMichael Pineda threw with the type of gusto through Thursday he had three years ago when the Yankees traded for him from Seattle. His slider made batters look foolish. His fastball set up off-speed pitches. And he mixed in a cutter and changeup to keep the Boston Red Sox off-balance.

However, on Friday morning, no one seemed to be talking about Pineda’s pitching performance. Instead, it was about the substance on Pineda’s pitching hand. Television stills showed a brown substance on the base of the palm of his hand.

Pineda called it dirt. Others called it pine tar.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he didn’t know anything about it.

The Red Sox players said it didn’t matter.

There are reasons that it doesn’t matter to Boston – or most players asked around the league.

1. No one wants to be the team to point it out. If a manager does, he will set up his own team for the same kind of scrutiny. A manager may know some of his own players do it. Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was seen last year using sunscreen – under the dome in Toronto – to potentially doctor pitches. Boston manager John Farrell can’t exactly accuse another pitcher of doing something similar when Red Sox pitchers have been seen doing this more than once.

2. It’s happening in baseball whether fans like it or not.

Usually pitchers are a little more inconspicuous about it. The batters know about it, and publically haven’t come out against it.

David Ortiz told reporters on Thursday night: “Everybody uses pine tar in the league. It’s not a big deal. … I don’t pay any attention to it. Did he have a lot of pine tar? I didn’t get to see it. What can I tell you, I don’t know what pine tar does to the baseball – maybe better grip. Better be careful (laughs). But his velocity and his slider was good tonight. That’s all I can tell you. His pitching was good."

3. It protects the hitters. On cold, cool nights where the ball could feel slippery, a pitcher may lose control and hit players unintentionally.

I don’t know if this true, but this is the company line. Players and pitchers asked about it on Thursday night went with this line of reasoning.

Perhaps we need another Mythbusters dedicated to baseball to see if this is actually the case.

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These are reasons why players won’t say anything, or throw their colleagues under the bus when it comes to using a foreign substance when pitching – despite it clearly being against the rules. It seems to be one of those unwritten, unspoken rules.

Maybe next time, Pineda should be a little more subtle about it.

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Do You Hear That, Phil?

Hughes vs LAD

Do you?  You should listen to it a little closer.  That's the sound of Michael Pineda coming.  That's the sound of your rotation spot disappearing in about a month, and possibly a nice chunk of your upcoming free agent money with it.  Take a look around, buddy.  You're the weak link in the rotation, and the truth is you have been since the minute Ivan got DL'd.  You're sitting with a 5.09/4.43/4.41 split now, with just as many bad starts as good this season after another Phil Hughes 101 clinic last night- missing in the strike zone with fastballs, inconsistency with the offspeed stuff, no ability at all to put hitters away with 2 strikes.  It's all just getting old, dude.  You're waking up today coming off another stinker and Pineda is pitching again tonight down in Tampa.  It's already setting up for you to be bumped.

And guess what?  This time the Yankees won't shuffle guys around and roll out the red carpet for you in the bullpen.  They don't need to do that this time.  Things are just fine in the 'pen.  Maybe you'll get put on the phantom DL with more shoulder fatigue.  Maybe you'll get sent down to Triple-A to hang out with Ivan.  Maybe you will get sent out to the bullpen, to be Adam Warren's caddy and D-Rob's sock washer.  It doesn't really matter anymore.  What matters is that your act has gotten tired and Pineda is on his way.  He's coming and he's not coming just to be a placeholder for Andy's back.  He's coming for your job.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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Pineda Makes His First Official Rehab Start Today

It was hinted at before his last ExST start on Monday, confirmed later in the week after he came through that outing without any further fingernail problems, and it will become a reality tonight.  Almost some 17 months after first being traded, Michael Pineda will throw his first in-game pitches in a Yankee uniform. A Tampa Yankee uniform, sure, but that's still good news for the guy who was brought in to be the king of hearts to CC's ace.  Pineda will get the start for Tampa tonight against the Lakeland Flying Tigers and everybody will get their first chance to see how he looks pitching in a real game.  The reports on his bullpen, sim gam, and ExST game work have all been incredibly encouraging, with his velocity regularly sitting in the low-to-mid 90s range the last few times he's pitched.  This somewhat surprising quick return of said velocity has added a hint of excitement to this rehab comeback, and with the Yankee rotation depth taking a few hits in the last 24 hours due to Wang's opt out and Nuno's injury, Pineda's chances of moving right into the rotation are getting even better.

That move is still plenty of weeks away, as the Yankees will likely use every bit of the 30-day rehab window and then some to ensure Pineda is fully stretched out and feeling 100% physically.  Joe implied before last night's game that the Yankees would like to see him throw at least 2 consecutive games of 90-100 pitches before calling him up, and I expect the Yankees will use a few extra weeks after the 30 days are up to do just that in Triple-A and also allow themselves to regain that year of team control they lost last year.

Pineda's game starts at 6 PM EST tonight.  I more than likely won't be around to cover it, but there should be plenty of other folks on the interwebs taking care of that.

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Pineda's Rotation Chances Improving With Every Rotation Problem

Michael Pineda, Larry Rothschild It's been almost a year and a half since the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda.  Sometimes it feels like it's been even longer than that.  The reports about his early spring performance in sim games and bullpen sessions has been more than encouraging, but yesterday he took the next real step in his comeback when the team announced that he would begin his 30-day MiL rehab assignment this Saturday with High-A Tampa.  He was reportedly sitting mid-90s again in his latest ExST start on Monday and hasn't had any physical issues outside of a cracked fingernail to hold him back.  At long last, the Yanks and us Yankee fans, will get a look at their haul from that now infamous January, 2012 trade.

This next big comeback step for Pineda will be his first big step in a Yankee career that has yet to even have one.  Pineda's only Yankee-related claim to fame is being the pitcher who got hurt and missed the season right after the team traded its best prospect for him.  The hype that came with Pineda's age, size, stuff, and rookie year results after the trade was completely washed away when the news of his shoulder injury came out.  Pineda will start his Yankee career on the bad side of the fanbase that still remembers the sting of the Carl Pavanos and Kevin Browns of the world, almost needing to re-prove that he actually is a good pitcher.  That's a tough position for any early-20s player to find himself in, especially in New York, and yet Pineda almost has a red carpet of opportunity laid out for him already.

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Is Michael Pineda Ahead Of Schedule? Should We Be Excited About That?

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod

Michael Pineda came to Yankee camp last year with high expectations.  He was a hulking 23-year-old kid coming off an impressive rookie season, the Yankees had just traded their best prospect in years to acquire him, and he represented the first significant move in the Yankees' efforts to get younger and get below the $189 million payroll threshold.  Long story short, those expectations were far from being met after Pineda showed up to camp overweight, struggled with his velocity and command, and eventually missed the whole 2012 season with a labrum tear in his pitching shoulder.

Pineda came to camp this year with no expectations.  He started his rehab throwing program in the fall, and the early words coming back from Brian Cashman and the coaching staff focused more on the idea of Pineda not pitching at all in 2013 than on exactly when he would be back.  Since arriving in Tampa, however, there's been a pretty noticeable shift in the Pineda discussion and evaluation, and there seems to be a renewed sense of positivity about the progress he's making.  With not a lot of other positive storylines to latch onto this spring, I'll raise the question.  Is it too early to start getting excited about Pineda's comeback?

"Excited" might be too strong a word to use when describing Pineda's progress.  He still isn't anywhere near pitching in a game situation, and is probably still at least a month away from having a radar gun on him.  Until those things happen and we see what the results are, excited is a word that should probably stay off the table.  But how about "encouraged?"  That seems fair given what's happened in the last few weeks.  Here's what we know about Pineda right now:

  • He stuck to his post-surgery rehab and workout schedule and received positive comments on both his work ethic and conditioning.
  • Pineda showed up to camp early to continue his rehab at 260 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than what he came into camp at last season.
  • He started throwing off a half-mound on 1/29 and quickly made the transition to a full mound on 2/12.
  • Pineda's second full-mound session on last Friday drew a positive review from Joe, who praised his arm speed and said he looked "pretty good."
  • He's scheduled to start facing hitters sometime next month.

"Next month" could mean March 1st or it could mean March 27th when it comes to facing hitters, but the point is that Pineda has moved forward quickly in his rehab since getting back to throwing regularly and that's a very good sign.  Whenever he does start facing batters, I would anticipate the remainder of his Spring Training being spent doing that and then a transition to Extended Spring Training to get some more game situation work in before heading to a MiL rehab assignment sometime in May.  June has always been the rough target date for Pineda's return and that date continues to hold.  The encouraging part of that timeline is that the talk from the Yankee brass has shifted from outright pessimism and tempering expectations for the season to what Cash called "cautious optimism" after watching Pineda throw last week.

The projections for Pineda this season have been surprisingly positive.  ZiPS projects 120.0 IP over 20 starts with a 4.43/4.29 ERA/FIP slash, while CAIRO has him at 147 IP in 25 starts with a 4.24/3.95 slash.  The Yankees would be ecstatic with either of those projected scenarios playing out, but in reality they are both overly optimistic.  Once again, though, Pineda and the discussion surrounding him has shifted to a positive, optimistic tone, and that's a good thing.  Way back when his injury was first diagnosed and the surgery was performed, there was talk about this being a career ender for him, and in fairness the history of labrum tears amongst pitchers is a checkered one.  But Pineda has put in the time and the work with his rehab to get back to being the best pitcher he can be, and that time and work is being reflected in his early spring camp performances.

Like I said, "excited" might be a stretch right now because he still has a long way to go.  But "encouraged" is more than appropriate and a serious improvement from the feelings about Pineda going back a few months.  Pineda is still the wild card in the 2013 rotation, and based on his early work in camp, that wild card has a better chance of returning some dividends this year.