For those of you who didn’t see Saturday’s game, or read my column last night, Iván Nova partially tore his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) during his abysmal start on Saturday against the Rays. Nova has already been placed on the DL, and is most likely heading for Tommy John surgery in the coming weeks. We won’t see him again until next year, so now the Yankees need to find their replacement. Manny Banuelos recently got ripped in a low level game, so he’s not quite back from his own Tommy John surgery quite yet and can’t be called up. Therefore, in my opinion, there are only two options left for the Yankees; Vidal Nuño and David Phelps. So who’s it going to be?
First of all, it’s a real shame that Nova has suffered this injury. 2014 was supposed to be his coming out party; the year he finally put it all together and dominated from April to October. Instead, he got off to a rough start and now he’s hurt and the year is lost for him. Now, he’ll have to deal with 2015 being his “come back” year, and maybe, if it’s not too late, he could break out in 2016 at the age of 29. Tough break, buddy.
Ok now that that’s out of the way, let’s examine the two guys that have the best shot at taking over for Nova in the rotation. Both Nuño and Phelps were in the running for the fifth starter spot this spring, before ultimately losing out to Michael Pineda, who has been brilliant so far in 2014. After Spring Training, both guys went into the major league bullpen; Phelps as a setup man, and Nuño as a long reliever. Both started the season shakily. Phelps gave up 3 homers in his first two outings, and Nuño got hammered for 7 runs in relief of Nova just a little over a week ago. Since then, however, both men have turned things around.
Phelps seems to have settled in nicely to a seventh inning type setup role, and really stepped up when David Robertson went down with his strained groin. Nuño, on the other hand, wasn’t used for a week after his disastrous relief outing against the Orioles. Because of the rainout against the Cubs last week, the Yankees had to start Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka in respective ends of a double header, which meant they would need to choose another starter for yesterday’s game to get everyone back on a normal rest schedule. Because he hadn’t pitched in a week and was already stretched out to a higher pitch count from his last outing, Nuño got the nod. He did not disappoint, using only 69 pitches to pitch 5 shutout innings against the Rays. He would have gone longer, but he was on a 75 pitch limit.
Phelps and Nuño have similar repertoires, in that they don’t throw very hard and rely on location and speed change to get hitters out. Phelps does throw a little harder, but still gets in trouble when his location is off. Nuño is the classic crafty lefty, relying on slow, slower and slowest to keep hitters off balance. Both guys have also been in the rotation at various points of their Yankees careers too. Phelps has been and on again, off again starter since he first joined the Yankees in 2012, and Nuño spent a few starts in the rotation last year before a groin injury ended his season.
It’s no secret that Phelps would love to be in the rotation, but his problem is that he has proven he can pitch out of the bullpen effectively, while Nuño has completely floundered when asked to come in in relief. In 7.1 career innings out of the bullpen, he has allowed 8 runs. In 22 career innings as a starter, he has allowed 4 runs. That’s a 1.63 ERA, for those of you keeping score at home. I don’t like to mess with things that are working. Right now, Phelps seems to have found his groove in the seventh inning, and Nuño is coming off of 5 shutout innings, in a job that he’s done well throughout his brief career. On top of that, Nuño is already stretched out to 75 pitches, which probably puts him one more start away from no longer being on any kind of pitch limit. Phelps would have to be fully stretched out again if he were going to join the rotation.
Results wise, I think these two guys would be very similar to each other over the course of a full season, but I just think it makes sense to keep Nuño in the rotation because he’s stretched out and has basically been on the rotation work schedule for the last couple of weeks. Either way, I think that this rotation, with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Tanaka and Pineda, will be OK.
Featured image courtesy of: The Associated Press
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