Yankees lose their battery in early innings against Blue Jays
Already with half of their intended starting lineup — Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira — stuck on the disabled list, the Yankees suffered a pair of additional blows during Friday night's game against the Blue Jays, losing their starting battery due to separate injuries. During the first plate appearance of the game, catcher Francisco Cervelli took a Rajai Davis foul tip off his right hand and left the game in favor of Chris Stewart. In the third inning, starting pitcher Ivan Nova left after dodging a comebacker — again off the bat of Davis. David Phelps came on in relief.
If nothing else, the injuries raised the question of when the last time both a starting catcher and a starting pitcher had left the same game due to injuries. In 2008, the Padres' Chris Young and Josh Bard both left a May 22 game against the Cardinals, the former after being hit in the face by an Albert Pujols line drive, the latter after suffering a sprained ankle when Pujols slid into home plate later that inning. Expect the researchers at Elias to chime in with other examples at some point.
Even with the game still in progress, the Yankees provided prognoses for both players via their YES Network broadcast. Cervelli suffered a fractured hand that will require surgery, costing him at least six weeks. The severity of the injury was quickly apparent when news broke via Twitter that Austin Romine had been pulled from the game of the Yankees' Triple-A Scranton affiliate in mid-inning in favor of Bobby Wilson, suggesting an imminent callup.
The 27-year-old Cervelli was off to a hot start with the bat, hitting .269/.377/.500 with three homers in 61 plate appearances, a surprising show of power for a player whose career high is four homers, and who came into the year with just a .353 slugging percentage and an .062 isolated power (slugging minus batting average). While he has started 16 of the team's 22 games, his work behind the plate has been more uneven; though he has gunned down two out of four would-be base thieves, he has also committed four errors already. It was Cervelli's defensive woes — a 14-percent caught-stealing rate and a combined 19 errors in 2010-2011 — that led the team to banish him to Triple-A for all but three late-season cameo appearances last year while Stewart served as the backup to Russell Martin.
With Martin departing as a free agent and the Yankees attempting to cut payroll, general manager Brian Cashman decided not to bring in a more accomplished catcher, instead content to let Cervelli and the even lighter-hitting Stewart (.217/.281/.302 career) share the job. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Romine, who twice graced the lower reaches of Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list, was slated to work his way back into the picture after a season in which he was limited to just 31 games (17 in the high minors) due to an inflamed disc in his lower back. With Cervelli's absence, Romine could be forced into some on-the-job training at the Major-League level. If the team opts to let him continue his development at Triple-A, Wilson, who has 191 games of Major-League experience but just a .208/.272/.321 line as a hitter, represents another warm body who could squat in his stead.
As for Nova, the mercurial 26-year-old righty hadn't been pitching well prior to the injury. He had failed to last more than five innings in any of his first three starts, and including his work on Friday night, is carrying a 6.48 ERA. While he's struck out 18 hitters in 16 2/3 innings, he's also issued eight walks and given up 23 hits, a performance much more along the lines of last year, when he struck out 8.1 per nine but was hit for a 5.02 ERA, than in his 2011 rookie season, when he whiffed just 5.3 per nine but finished with a 3.70 ERA. Via YES, the word from the team is that he'll undergo an MRI and may well wind up on the disabled list, too.
If that's the case, Phelps is the most likely candidate to fill his rotation spot. The 26-year-old righty spent last year as the Yankees' swingman, making 11 starts and 22 relief appearances totaling 99 2/3 innings, during which he struck out an impressive 8.7 per nine but also yielded 1.3 homers per nine. Coming into Friday night's game, he had been hit for a 6.23 ERA while striking out 13 in 13 innings this year, all in relief, most of it low-leverage duty. A less likely candidate at this juncture is 33-year-old Chien-Ming Wang, who's carrying an 0.75 ERA after two starts at Scranton, but who struggled in both the Majors (6.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings) and minors (5.51 ERA in 80 innings) for the Nationals last year while battling hamstring and hip injuries. Despite their injuries, the Yankees came into Friday with a 12-9 record that left them in third place in the AL East, half a game ahead of the A's for the second wild-card slot. Neither the Cervelli nor Nova injury is a backbreaker, but once again, they'll test the depth of an organization that has had to scramble to find players who can buy them time until the stars get back.