Yankees rotation is not fooled by positive March vibes


The Yankees began their final spring training shift around the rotation on Friday in at least a much better headspace than when they began this process five weeks ago.

The part of the rotation that isn’t Gerrit Cole, who had raised concerns, has remained healthy and pitched well, providing the Yankees’ winningest parlay of this spring training. It has gone so well that Deivi Garcia, who was sent to Triple-A on Friday, will likely start the year at the alternate site, preparing for a minor league season or when the big team requires replenishment.

That the body of work and the bodies for rotation are both solid, of course, outweighs the alternative. But there are two baseball sayings that resonate right now that should temper the runaway enthusiasm, to say the least:

1. Don’t be fooled by the March results.

This is a month for deception. Major leaguers, minor leaguers, and off-the-roster desperation mix in games with varying levels of preparation. Veterans may be working on new changes or releases. Again, it’s better that the Yankees starters have performed well statistically. But if we’re going to take those numbers seriously, do we also have to do it for a Yankees offense that has generally been lousy in the Grapefruit League?

If you were a gambler, would you bet, with everything you know, including the March 2021 results, that the Yankees will be more concerned about their rotation or lineup in the regular season?

2. You never have too much starting pitch.

It should be noted how quickly the depth fades. The Rangers, for example, left Spring Training 2.0 in 2020 satisfied with their newest acquisition, Corey Kluber. The third game began. He threw an inning. He hurt his shoulder. He never pitched again.

Corey Kluber # 28, pitching in the second inning.
The Yankees will need to keep a close eye on Corey Kluber this season.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York

Kluber is now part of a rotation in which that entry represents one more of what Domingo German or Jameson Taillon launched last year.

Let’s play with the gambler’s angle again: Would you bet the Yankees will stay out of the early trade market in July or will they be deep into, say, Luis Castillo of the Reds and German Márquez of the Rockies?

Avoiding the fragility of the rotation in March is the only hurdle the Yankees could have crossed to this point, and they have. A positive, for sure. But considering how little German, Kluber, Taillon and even Jordan Montgomery have released in the last two years, the biggest barrier was always going to be June, July and August …

The whole sport is gearing up to cover innings this year, unsure of the workload pitchers can handle after a COVID-impacted 2020 of 60 major league games and none for the minors. The average team pitched 516 innings last year in the regular season. In the 162-game 2019 season, it was 1,447.

Boone mentioned last week that he thinks Cole can go back to being a 200-inning starter this year – a luxury, if true, that few teams will have. That would still leave more than 1,200 entries. Let’s go back to that person who bets: Would you bet on someone from German, Kluber, Taillon – combined one inning last year – giving 150 innings this year? How about 125? Montgomery, 17 combined starts in the past three seasons, ready for more than 25 this year?

The Yankees have Garcia on speed dial. Perhaps Clarke Schmidt will bounce back and become a factor at some point. The Yankees are aiming for a July reentry for Luis Severino, but he is another who was at zero innings last year after Tommy John’s surgery.

Like all teams, the Yankees will need creativity. The Mariners and Angels, for example, are already committed to six-man rotations and others will at least use that or starters on occasion. The Yankees have four days off in the first 19 days of the season and want to be vigilant to sensibly avoid them, especially to protect themselves in expected colder weather. I suspect hybrids like Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson, who could give 80-100 innings in relief, will be huge.

Boone said he is “not imposing strict limitations on any of (the incumbents)” when it comes to tickets. He noted that he has a generalized roadmap for how the Yankees would like to allocate starts and innings in 2021, but acknowledged that “it’s always an equation that evolves and changes along the way.” All sport will have to improvise; Arguably the Yankees as much as any other club due to the shortage of tickets that many of their starters have had in recent years.

So yeah, that Boone is satisfied with items beyond stats like things and recovery between starts is important. The new recruits, Kluber and Taillon, have acclimatized well, as has the German, who is going through a rough road back to respectability after being suspended under domestic abuse protocols. In fact, German’s sense of pitching is perhaps what surprised the staff the most.

Once again, the Yankees better not be looking for backup or picking up positives this month. It is a positive first step. But it is a long march from here.

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