Lineup can soothe Yanks' rotation woes
NEW YORK -- Wednesday was a very bad day for the Yankees, regardless of the final score of their matinee against the Indians. It wasn't their Waterloo.
The sun will rise on Thursday with New York still holding a healthy lead in the American League East, and with a roster that remains one of the game's best -- even minus two starting pitchers. The task just got harder for the reigning division champs, but it's far from impossible.
CC Sabathia went on the 15-day disabled list in the morning with a mild left groin strain, and he will miss two starts as a result. Three hours later, Andy Pettitte took a more severe blow, suffering a fractured left ankle when Casey Kotchman stung a ball that found just the wrong spot on Pettitte's push-off leg.
"A bad day for left-handers today," said manager Joe Girardi.
And so there's a real temptation to panic in Yankee-land. That's the team's two best starters, removed from active duty on the same afternoon. For a club whose greatest worry this year has often been starting pitching, it's a double dose of bad news.
There's the key, though: For much of the year, this team has already been answering questions about its rotation. For much of April and May, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes were adrift. Pettitte didn't make his first start until mid-May. Even Sabathia started slow, carrying an admittedly misleading 4.58 ERA into May.
So they'll plug in right-hander Adam Warren, who's been solidly durable over a full year and a half at Triple-A. They'll give the ball to the rejuvenated Freddy Garcia, who's rediscovered his velocity since being moved to the bullpen in early May. And they should soon have David Phelps, who's already acquitted himself nicely at the Major League level this year.
The Yanks won't have a dominant top of the rotation for a little while, but Hiroki Kuroda, Nova and Hughes are more than good enough to contend. The offense remains one of the game's most dangerous, the bullpen remains deep and the rotation is plenty good enough to tread water for a while.
Losing Sabathia for six months would be a devastating blow for the Yankees. Likewise if he were to go down in October. He's one of the best, most reliable, most durable pitchers in the Majors. But over two weeks in July, it's an annoyance, not a catastrophe. Thanks to the All-Star break, he should only miss two starts.
Pettitte will be gone longer, but he's only been here for six weeks as it is. They'll miss him, but they'll make do.
"The big thing is for our guys to understand is that Nova and Hughes and Kuroda can't make the starts for CC and Andy," Girardi said. "So just be yourself. Don't try to do too much, because when you do that, usually things go awry. So to me, the big thing is just reminding them, 'Just go out and do what you do, and we'll take care of the other two days. It's not your responsibility.'"
Besides, the Yanks have begun doing the one thing they absolutely must do if they're going to be the team they expect to be: score runs. The starters need to perform, and so does the bullpen, but if this Yankees team doesn't hit, it's in trouble. And it's hitting now.
They've moved into fourth in the league in scoring -- and they're climbing, and there's every reason to think they'll continue to do so. This is too good a lineup to have so-so results for long. If they have to win more games by 7-5 scores as opposed to 5-3, so be it.
"We've got a lot to be positive about," Pettitte said. "We're playing well. Everbyody's throwing the ball well. We've got guys that are going to step up and do a great job. ... We've just got to weather the storm."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.