First Pitch: Yanks relish starter 'problem'

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
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A Yankee official reiterated that the team is relishing the decision on how to choose between six qualified starters for five spots. While the choice will deservedly receive a lot of attention, it is far from a final one.

"We will need 24-to-28 pitchers this year -- probably eight or nine starters," the official said.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Wallace Matthews the Yankees will probably meet on Thursday to further discuss what to do to with their rotation.

This is what we know for sure: CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are in. Sabathia will start the opener next Friday in Tampa, while Kuroda will begin the second game, putting him in line to pitch the home opener on April 13th against the Angels.

This is what we are almost certain will happen: We have felt that Phil Hughes would be in the rotation and, hearing the official rave about his "complete assortment of weapons" and his "ability to throw his change to lefties and righties," cemented it further. So Hughes is all but in.

This what should be discussed at Cashman's Starting Five Summit: There have been some concerns about Michael Pineda's velocity, which a scout still had at mostly 89-91 in his last time out. The official said he was encouraged because Pineda has hit 94 a few times on the gun.

When these stats, showing how much better hitters batted against Pineda's sub-95 fastball, were pointed out to the official, he said that the league average jumps at 94 for all starters. Lower than 94 gets hit much harder than plus-94, which seems obvious, but is relevant with Pineda.

If 94 is a line to draw between good and great, then Pineda likely needs to find those two or three miles per hour if he is going to eventually graduate to the No. 2 spot.

Still, the official talked up the improvement of Pineda's change. Pineda started throwing it in the second half of last year and is committed to the pitch.

Cashman has already said that adding a good change, a third pitch to complement his fastball and slider combo, is what could turn Pineda into a consistently elite starter.

As for Pineda's high pitch counts, the official said that often happens with strikeout pitchers, pointing to Pineda's 16 Ks in 16 1/3 innings as a positive reason why. Pineda does have a team-high seven walks.

While Ivan Nova has worse numbers than Pineda's, the official said in his last start he showed excellent control and strength with the fastball.

If Freddy Garcia were to go to the bullpen, the official said that he could probably be stretched out to 65 pitches into the middle of May. While that would not be a full game, it does mean that if Garcia is the odd man out, he could still conceivably be ready if he is called upon to start in the first six weeks or pre-Andy Pettitte.

However you look at it, even the starter who doesn't make the rotation is probably going to have an important role on the team by the end of season. Because if any starters struggles, Joe Girardi will be asked when he might pull the plug and put in the man who lost the spring training competition.

UP NOW: Kieran Darcy on Joba Chamberlain's emotional press conference about his injury. Darcy on Curtis Granderson's MRI.

ON DECK: Wally will be Orlando as the Yankees and Braves tangle. The game is on ESPN

Kuroda gets the start today. Wally will have an update on Granderson and much more. Thanks for reading.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you believe in Nova after last year?
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.271 16 70 71
OTHER LEADERS
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
WM. Tanaka 13
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146