First Pitch: Does Kurkjian have a point?

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
7:00
AM ET
Most observers think that despite the injury to Michael Pineda, the Yankees starting rotation is one of the team's strongest assets.

Not Tim Kurkjian, however.

The ESPN Baseball Tonight analyst, in fact, thinks the Yankees' rotation is no better than fifth-best in the AL, behind four of the teams that are expected to be their toughest obstacles to a trip to the 2012 World Series. Kurkjian ranks the Yankees' rotation behind that of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Angels, the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox.

You can hear all of his reasoning in this video clip:



His main point is that Hiroki Kuroda, tonight's starter against the Marlins, is really no better than a No. 3 starter but is being asked this year to be a No. 2. and according to Kurkjian, that isn't good enough to get it done.

Kuroda had had a very good spring -- 2-1, 2.91 -- and he got zero run support with the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he posted four seasons of sub-4.00 ERA, but never won more than 13 games and only had one winning season, 8-7 in 2009, to show for it. Obviously, the Yankees lineup will give him more help, but at the same time, he will be facing much tougher lineups, too. So there's that.

There's also Phil Hughes, who had the best spring of any of the starters but still needs to prove his injury-riddled, 5-5, 5.79 ERA 2011 season was an aberration, and Ivan Nova, a 16-game winner who might need to prove his 1-2, 6.86 spring was nothing to be alarmed about.

Then there is Freddy Garcia, a solid performer who gets by on guts and guile to give you 150 innings a year, and of course Andy Pettitte is supposed to be coming back in May, but he will soon be 40 years old and hasn't thrown a pitch in a major-league game in a year-and-a-half.

Despite its depth, does this rotation really stack up against David Price-James Shields-Jeremy Hellickson-Matt Moore-Jeff Niemann? Or Jered Weaver-C.J. Wilson-Dan Haren-Ervin Santana? Or Colby Lewis-Yu Darvish-Derek Holland-Matt Harrison? Or even Josh Beckett-Jon Lester-Clay Buchholz-Felix Doubront-Daniel Bard?

Joe Girardi obviously thinks so, and so does Sabathia, who after pitching four lackluster innings on Sunday in his final spring start, offered this assessment: “I’m excited for us. If we stay healthy and pitch the way we’re supposed to, we’re going to be right back in the position we want to be in.''

The Question: What do you think? Is this starting staff good enough to carry the Yankees as far as they want to go, or is Tim Kukjian right? Is this just a middle-of-the-road rotation that will need some fresh blood by the trading deadline, if not sooner?

Up now: All the stuff I did from Sunday's 10-8 win over the Fish, plus a column that struck me as I sat in beautiful new Marlins Park: Tell me again why they couldn't build something like this in New York?

On-deck circle: Our stats guru, Mark Simon, has put together a piece on Yankee milestones that could fall this season. Nothing as sexy as DJ3K or Mo600, mind you, but good stuff all the same. Should be up by noon. Also, Andrew Marchand and I will debate a topic that is sure to be a hot button issue over the next few weeks. Namely, can Pettitte really be a valuable part of this team after such a long absence? Plus, there's another game tonight against the Marlins (7:05 start), after which we all trudge north to Port St. Lucie for the first of two exhibitions against the Mets. The blog is always hungry and I will be feeding it all day. As always, thanks for reading and check back often.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAB. Gardner .283
HRM. Teixeira 18
RBIM. Teixeira 50
RB. Gardner 67
OPSB. Gardner .812
ERAM. Tanaka 2.51
SOM. Tanaka 135