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Jobu discusses the back end of the Yankees starting rotation.

I know we’ve been focusing on the offense, and who will be playing several key positions defensively as well, but the Yankees do have a battle raging in the rotation too. The first four spots are pretty much cemented to start the season. CC Sabathia will take the ball on opening day, followed by Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. I know Hughes won’t be ready to start the season because he came to spring training to swim and play catch (just kidding Phil, I know your back is injured), but once he’s healthy, he’ll be there. The fifth starter role, however, is definitely up in the air. So who is going to end up in the rotation when the team heads North?

1. Iván Nova

Wil the real Iván Nova please stand up? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Wil the real Iván Nova please stand up? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

I think that, if the Yankees had their druthers, Nova would be their man. Unfortunately, no one’s really sure which Iván Nova will show up in 2013. In 2011, Nova pretty much came out of nowhere to end up second on the team with 16 wins and held down the mound with a 3.70 ERA. He wasn’t very flashy on the mound. Basically, he just kept the ball on the ground and didn’t worry about striking batters out (98 Ks in 165.1 Ip). At one point, he won 12 decisions in a row. They guy flat out impressed.

In 2012, he seemed like a completely different pitcher. He still ended up with a winning record of 12-8, but his ERA ballooned to 5.02, and he gave up extra-base hits like they were going out of style. In all, he allowed 87 of them in just 170.1 innings, including 28 home runs (compared to 13 in 2011). That’s a whole lot of extra bases. Another thing that I noticed last year was that his strike out totals also spiked. He racked up 153 Ks in those 170.1 innings, which is a clear jump from the year before. It seems to me he got away from his ground and pound style of 2011 and maybe fell in love a little bit with striking people out. This caused him to get a lot more balls up in the zone, and he got hammered. His May 19th game against the Reds was a perfect microcosm of his 2012 season. In 6 innings he gave up 7 hits, 5 runs and a home run, but he also struck out 12 Reds. The 12 Ks was very impressive, the Yankees loss was not.

What’s he going to bring to the table in 2013? For one thing, he doesn’t lack in confidence. He never has. That’s going to be a big part of his attempted turnaround. He believes he will be better. He has looked pretty good so far this spring, but that doesn’t always translate to April successes. Personally, I don’t think he’s fitted for the bullpen, and he shouldn’t be in AAA, so I’d like him to earn the job and pitch well.

2. David Phelps

Could Phelps be the better option for the Yankees? (Jeff Kowalsky/EPA)
Could Phelps be the better option for the Yankees? (Jeff Kowalsky/EPA)

You could draw some comparisons between David Phelps’ rookie year in 2012 and Nova’s the year before. Neither guy was as touted as guys like Delin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Both guys rode the AAA shuttle throughout the season before finally solidifying spots on the roster. Both guys also impressed everyone with the numbers they put up on a big league mound at a young age. By the end of the year, Phelps had replaced the struggling Nova in the rotation, and it was well deserved.

Overall, Phelps’ numbers were very impressive indeed. In 33 games and 11 starts total, Phelps went 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA. More impressive were his 1.194 WHIP and his 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He was touched up a bit with the home run ball early in the season, but he really helped solidify the bullpen before finally joining the rotation. It’s rare that a guy can have such an impact on both sides of the box score like that. Some guys are great relievers and some guys are great starters. There aren’t too many guys that can do both.

The one thing that gives Phelps a big leg up on the competition is that he came to camp well ahead of schedule with his throwing and pitching. Early in spring, before some guys were even thinking about stretching their arms out, Phelps was throwing live batting practice. He’s also already thrown 5 innings in a game this spring. He’s been absolutely lights out, allowing one run in his 14 innings of work. Basically, he came to camp to take home that fifth starter spot, and that has impressed me a lot. I’m sure Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have noticed. OK maybe not Cashman, he’s been busy snarking at reporters, putting down potential free agents and breaking his leg jumping out of a plane (I’m not bitter!). The one thing that might actually hurt Phelps’ chances at making the rotation is that versatility we highlighted a in the last paragraph. The Yankees know he can be effective out of the bullpen. They know he could really help them there. If both guys have great springs, I think I’d be more apt to go with Nova in the rotation over Phelps because I’ve never really seen Nova pitch out of the pen.

Final Thoughts

What happens when this guy gets healthy again? (Getty Images)
What happens when this guy gets healthy again? (Getty Images)

This article might not matter come opening day. It’s pretty apparent that Hughes will not be ready for opening day. His bulging disk is healed, but two weeks is a huge chunk of time for pitchers to miss in spring. Hughes hasn’t even gotten into a game yet, and it’s going to take a while to get him worked up to being able to pitch six and seven innings. Because of this, odds are we’ll see both Phelps and Nova in the rotation when the team heads to the Bronx. However, barring a catastrophic setback, Hughes will be back sometime in April, and one of these guys will have to sit.

Also, we haven’t even mentioned the looming rehabilitation of Michael Pineda, who is expected to be recovered from his shoulder injury and ready to go by June or July. The Yankees didn’t trade their best hitting prospect in years to Seattle to have Pineda pitch out of the bullpen when he comes back. This means that, whoever wins the fifth spot in the rotation will probably be on the outside looking in anyway at some point or another… or perhaps on another team? Of course, the way this season is going, I’m sure somebody else is going to end up injured anyway.

Featured image courtesy of: Jets Insider

Martin Stezano

About Martin Stezano

Uruguayan born and American raised with a unique perspective on the domestic and international sports scenes. It will both tickle your funny bone and enlighten your mind. Love it or hate it...just read it.