NEW YORK -- This wasn't a spot start for Vidal Nuno. He's in the New York Yankees' rotation at least for a while, taking Ivan Nova's place, and he's already penciled in to start next Friday against the Rays.
This wasn't a "bullpen day," even if the guys in the Yankees' bullpen were joking about that -- and even if that's what it looked like, after Nuno got 13 outs and the actual relievers got 14 in a 4-3 Yankees win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday.
It worked, on this day, but it's not a sustainable plan to ask the bullpen to get more outs than the starter. It's not sustainable to have the starting pitcher out of the game before the end of the fifth inning, something that has now happened to the Yankees three times in the past four days.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have a fine 14-10 record that has them in first place in the American League East. They don't have a rotation crisis, or anything that resembles a crisis, four weeks into the season.
What they do have are small concerns they hope don't grow into big ones, concerns that can have you already thinking they'll need to add a starting pitcher (or even two) via the midseason trading market.
They've lost Nova to season-ending Tommy John surgery. They always knew there would be questions about how many innings they could ask from Michael Pineda, after he missed the past two seasons because of injury. They knew Hiroki Kuroda would be pitching at age 39, coming off two seasons where he seemed to hit the wall late in the year.
What happened this week may or may not be indicative of anything important. The short start Wednesday was caused by Pineda's pine tar stupidity. Kuroda lasted just 4 ⅔ innings Friday, but while he's been a little inconsistent so far, he's hardly been awful.
And Nuno? Who knows yet what to really make of the 26-year-old left-hander.
He gave the Yankees five shutout innings in his first start of the season. As manager Joe Girardi pointed out, even in his short start Saturday, he allowed only three runs.
"He did pretty decent," Girardi said. "He gave us a chance to win. He didn't give up a ton of runs. He'll be out there again in six days."
Nice of him to put it that way, but 4 ⅓ innings is hardly a decent start, even for a fifth starter. Starts like that have a team looking for other alternatives.
"I just had to battle," Nuno said. "I got into deep counts, and it got me out of the game. It was a challenge, and they got me today."
The Yankees survived it, because the bullpen was so good. The four relievers didn't allow any runs while pitching with a one-run lead and no safety net.
And now the Yankees can expect a deep start from Masahiro Tanaka, who has finished at least seven innings in each of his first four outings. There's an off day Monday.
"We'll be OK," Girardi said.
In the short term, he's right. They are OK. They survived a four-day stretch of starting pitching that wasn't good enough. They even won two of the four games.
"You go through stretches like this all the time in baseball," closer David Robertson said. "There'll be games where the starter goes nine and it's over in two hours, 40 minutes."
A Yankees game in 2:40? Robertson might be dreaming. But the starters could well get better.
For the Yankees to keep winning, they'll need to.