Let’s see what rabbit the Yankees pull out of their hat this time, because Andy Pettitte’s trip to the disabled list will really test New York’s magic.
The Yankees have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, not because they’re winning, but because they’re winning with spare parts. The Bronx Bombers have been without many of their stars, including Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, yet they’ve clawed their way to the top of the American League East.
Those setbacks, while major, pale in comparison to Pettitte’s injury, though.
The Yankees find themselves in first place largely because of their starting pitching, and Pettitte has been a big part of that. The overall numbers — 4-3 record, 3.83 ERA, 1.30 WHIP — aren’t eye-popping, but Pettitte has been very consistent with the exception of one outing. The lefty gave up seven earned runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings against the Astros on April 29, but he’s allowed three runs or fewer in each of his other seven starts.
Simply put, Pettitte gives the Yankees a chance to win when he takes the mound, and now New York will be forced to rely on 25-year-old rookie Vidal Nuno. Nuno’s first major league start on Monday went well — he tossed five shutout innings and got the win — but replacing a proven veteran presence like Pettitte is no easy task, especially when Phil Hughes’ recent struggles leave questions about where his season is headed.
CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda will need to continue anchoring the Yankees’ rotation in Pettitte’s absence, while the rest of the staff picks up the slack. David Phelps turned in another solid performance on Saturday, allowing just one earned run over seven innings, and he’ll need to continue pitching well for as long as Pettitte is sidelined — which the Yankees are optimistic won’t be long.
But even if Pettitte’s trip to the 15-day DL is precautionary, it still highlights just how thin of a tightrope the Yankees are walking. Ivan Nova could return before long, although he was hardly effective in his four starts before going down. And perhaps Michael Pineda, who hasn’t pitched in a Yankees uniform since being acquired prior to last season, will return and showcase his natural talent at some point this summer. Neither of those scenarios are a sure thing, though, so the Yankees should proceed with the mindset that any contribution from those two hurlers is an added bonus.
Will Pettitte’s recent injury kill the Yankees’ season? Probably not, especially if he only misses a couple of starts. However, if the injury bug sticks around and starts chomping away at him and the rest of the rotation, it could become awfully difficult for the Yankees to continue motoring along atop the division.
The Yankees have survived some big blows to their offense, but they simply cannot afford injuries to their rotation.