Yankees Likely to Use Five-Man Rotation, Will Get 'Creative' With Pitching Staff in 'Fluid Situation'
Ahead of a 60-game campaign following a four-month hiatus, pitchers across Major League Baseball are in the process of being presented with several unforeseen circumstances and challenges.
For the Yankees, pitching coach Matt Blake envisions the club keeping at least one component of their routine consistent to start this summer's schedule: the size of the starting rotation.
"The initial thought is we come in with a five-man [rotation] with five healthy starters," the first-year pitching coach said on Thursday after a handful of Yankees worked out at Yankee Stadium. "Obviously as we look at some of the matchups and how some of the guys are performing or feeling out of the gate, I think there’s definitely some different routes we can go."
Blake explained that while everything is subject to change at a moment's notice, the Bombers are planning to start the season with somewhere between 15 and 18 pitchers on the club's initial 30-man roster.
New York has arms to spare. Of the 58 ballplayers presently situated on New York's player pool for Summer Camp, 33 of them are pitchers. That includes five of the organization's top 10 prospects.
While some of New York's phenoms may not make the cut for Opening Day – and could be sent to the Bombers' alternative training site at its Triple-A affiliate's ballpark in Scranton – Blake and skipper Aaron Boone have ample depth to work with.
Like Blake alluded to, Boone emphasized that these next three weeks of training camp are a crucial indicator of how the Yankees' coaching staff will begin to formulate a blueprint for its plans when the regular season begins.
In Boone's eyes, a five-man rotation isn't necessarily a guarantee. He explained that New York will be "as creative as [they] have to be."
"We want to evaluate and see where our guys are," Boone said earlier this week. "Sometimes on the fly in a given week, you know, it can be a fluid situation where maybe you are skipping a guy, maybe a guy's a little banged up. So you have to go with a different way of doing things each time through the rotation. Those are all things that, you know, we'll try and be ready for as best we can."
Along the same lines, Blake didn't rule out the usage of an opener or bullpen days over the course of this season. Nonetheless, a five-man rotation out of the gate is the expectation later this month.
"Obviously an opener is something we’ve been using here in the past and we’ve got some really interesting options if we went that route or a bullpen day," he explained. "So I do think all of those things are on the table starting with a template of a five-day starting rotation and then navigating from there."
Strategizing how to fully utilize a bigger staff – and thus, a deeper bullpen – is still a work in progress and something that's bound to vary across all 30 big-league clubs, Blake explained.
"We’re in a 60-game sprint but we definitely value the depth and the strength of our bullpen to give us more flexibility than other teams," he said, disclosing that he's been in close communication with the Yankees' analytics staff as well as the front office to begin making some decisions as workouts begin. "Especially not just that main core of guys, but that next tier that would traditionally be in Triple-A that might be with us early with the 30-man."
Those that will fill the final few roster spots will join a starting staff that's likely to be comprised of Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery. Others that could see some starts as well include Jonathan Loaisiga, Mike King and top prospects Clarke Schmidt and Deivi García.
Cole tossed his first simulated game of Summer Camp on Thursday, twirling three innings against the likes of Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Luke Voit. Adam Ottavino took the mound at the Stadium on Thursday as well, tossing a pair of frames.
As for Tanaka, who spent MLB's coronavirus-induced delay in Japan, Blake confirmed the veteran right-hander made it to the Bronx safely and played catch on Thursday. He's slated to take the mound for live at-bats on Saturday.
Paxton took advantage of baseball's dormancy to completely recover from his lower back surgery this winter. Blake expects the southpaw to be "one of the most built up" hurlers coming into camp after weeks of progress in his rehab.
Beyond those staples in the rotation, Blake had nothing but good news to report when it comes to the health of New York's arms.
"Knock on wood, we feel good about the health of our team coming into camp," Blake said. "Getting them in and building them up will be the critical period where we want to make sure we don’t push them too fast."
Blake, Boone and the pitching staff have just about three weeks of wiggle room before the Yankees travel to the nation's capital to take on the defending champs in prime time.
Will the staff still be healthy across the board come July 23? Stay tuned.
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