TORONTO -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi hasn't settled on how he'll map out his rotation next week, a week that will feature an eight-game homestand and a Wednesday doubleheader against the Rays.
But the bigger question is how Girardi will map out his rotation going into the playoffs -- or, more specifically, how he'll plan it out so that CC Sabathia starts the first postseason game.
With the team's magic number to clinch a spot at six entering Saturday's game against the Blue Jays, that's a subject Girardi is staying away from. But considering Sabathia is slated to start one of the two Wednesday games at Yankee Stadium on normal rest, that would put his next turn for Sept. 26 or 27 -- depending on whether the Yankees go with a five- or six-man rotation -- and that would mean he'd have to pitch on short rest to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Sept. 30.
"We just haven't decided what we're going to do," Girardi said. "We're going to see where we're at and what we're going to do. Let's just wait."
Girardi, of course, wants to make sure his club clinches before he even thinks about the playoffs. But some advanced planning must be done if he hopes to maximize his usage of Sabathia in October.
To have Sabathia pitch Game 1, the Yanks' manager seemingly has two options:
1. With Sabathia already at 32 starts and 230 innings, he could pitch him just one more time this season and have him be on extended rest going in. If he starts Wednesday, as expected, that would mean it's eight days between starts heading into Game 1. If he starts him later in the week, he'd have an extended layoff in each of his next two turns.
2. Sabathia pitches on short rest at some point. Either he starts on Wednesday, then goes on three days' rest Sunday against the Red Sox -- maybe on a reduced workload -- to be lined up for the playoffs, or he makes his last regular-season start on Sept. 26 and goes into the playoffs on short rest.
Sabathia has a 4.56 ERA in his last eight starts, seven of which have come with an extra day of rest. Throughout that time, Girardi has checked on his ace periodically, and even gave him an extra day after throwing 111 pitches against the Blue Jays on Sept. 4 -- a start that came five days after throwing 128 against the Red Sox.
But if Girardi is thinking ahead to the postseason -- and his meticulous nature would point to that -- he isn't speaking about it publicly.
"I can't tell you exactly what I'm going to do [for the playoffs], because we're not in that situation," he said. "We've got to see after his next start how he feels. You're asking a hypothetical question and I can't answer it, because I don't know where we're going to be and I don't know how he's going to feel after his next start. Let's just wait and see after he starts on Wednesday, then we'll look at Friday and Saturday and decide what we're going to do."
A-Rod rejoins lineup, belts clutch home run
TORONTO -- One day after an encouraging batting-practice session, Alex Rodriguez was back in the Yankees' lineup Saturday, as expected. But he wasn't in his expected spot in the batting order.
Manager Joe Girardi batted him fifth against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Rodriguez responded with a single and a three-run homer in a 7-6 comeback victory.
"I'm just glad to be back in there," said Rodriguez, who hit behind Robinson Cano. "One step at a time. [I'm] kind of working it back, I guess slowly. But wherever the manager puts me, that's always fine."
Rodriguez, who last batted fifth on Sept. 6, 2006, has been out of the cleanup spot only one other time this season -- on Sept. 3, when he hit third -- and is nursing a sprained left thumb as he finds himself playing for the first time in eight days. The Yankees' third baseman was expected back Friday, but since he wasn't going to play in both of the first two games of this series, Girardi opted to wait another day and see how he gets through batting practice.
Then, with a new grip that has him separating his hands about a half-inch on the barrel to keep his top hand from banging the injured thumb, A-Rod went through seven rounds of BP and felt good on Friday.
"It seemed to help him yesterday when he went through BP, so it's a good idea," Girardi said. "It seems to work."
Girardi immediately put Rodriguez back in the fourth spot when he returned from knee surgery in late August, but this time decided to drop him. Girardi said the decision had more to do with Rodriguez's absence than Cano's production.
"Really, he hasn't played much in the last two months," Girardi said, "so I figured we'll just keep Robbie there for right now, and if Alex gets going, we can adjust our lineup as we see needed."
Rodriguez, who suffered the thumb injury in his first game back off the disabled list, has played in just 10 games since the All-Star break, batting .194 with two homers. It's not necessarily timing he's worried about; but having considerable power despite an ailing thumb and a new grip that's supposed to diminish just that.
"I think both are important, but just to have the authority to get through the zone the way I'm used to is the most important thing," said Rodriguez, batting .284 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in 90 games entering Saturday. "I think timing takes a little adjustment, but not as bad as the other thing."
Hughes pushed back; Burnett starts Monday
TORONTO -- Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes suffered back spasms after throwing his bullpen session on Friday, and will be moved back a day or two to make sure he's 100 percent the next time he starts.
A.J. Burnett, who last pitched Tuesday, will pitch in Hughes' place against the Twins on Monday and Hughes will slide back to pitch Tuesday or Wednesday, when the Yankees play a doubleheader against the Rays. Manager Joe Girardi isn't sure how his rotation will line up after Burnett, but he's not too concerned over Hughes' back spasms.
"He's better today; he got them yesterday," Girardi said after the Yankees' 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. "But we're just going to move him back and just make sure his back is good."
After completing his bullpen session with no problems, Hughes said he felt a pinch in his lower back while walking to the weight room. The 25-year-old remembers going through almost the same situation three years ago, and the spasms went away by the time he was scheduled to start.
For now, he'll just continue to get heat on it.
"It was bad yesterday, it's a lot better today," said Hughes, who's given up three runs in his last two starts -- a span of 12 innings. "I've been doing a lot of treatment on it, so I assume it'll be really good by tomorrow; hopefully enough to play catch with. I would've assumed that Monday I'd be fine, but we have so many guys here that it doesn't hurt to give it a day."
Manager Joe Girardi said Rafael Soriano pitched the eighth inning of Saturday's 7-6 win because David Robertson needed a day off after appearing in three straight games. Soriano, who has pitched in four of the last five days, has struck out each of the last six batters he's faced. Girardi was surprised Soriano announced himself available.
Girardi, when asked whether he thought of putting in Jorge Posada to catch Mariano Rivera's record-tying 601st save: "You know, you think about it. We have a one-run game there and Jorge's only caught six innings this year, so we'll see."
The Yankees had an interesting baserunning blunder in the top of the fourth. With Robinson Cano on second and Mark Teixeira on third, one out and New York trailing, 4-1, Colby Rasmus made a great running grab on a Nick Swisher line drive that looked to be headed toward the right-center-field gap. Cano ran up close to Teixeira thinking he'd score, and when Teixeira ran back to third to tag up, he crossed paths with Cano for the automatic out.
"It shouldn't happen," Teixeira said. "Robbie, he knows better. But sometimes you make mistakes and you learn from them."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.