A Yankees rotation producing nothing but good news for much of the last month suffered two dramatic and potentially devastating reversals yesterday afternoon.
Before the game, the team announced CC Sabathia had landed on the disabled list with a groin strain, but the ace is expected to miss only two starts. Later came far worse news. Andy Pettitte suffered a fractured lower fibula near his left ankle when struck by Casey Kotchman's one-hop smash in the fifth inning.
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Pettitte is not expected to be able to begin a rehab program for six weeks, and he and general manager Brian Cashman figure he'll be sidelined a minimum of two months.
So although the Yankees' 5-4 victory at the Stadium completed a three-game sweep of the Indians, it became almost an afterthought.
"Obviously, it's frustrating," said Pettitte, speaking in front of his locker while propped up on crutches, his foot in a boot. "But things happen for a reason. Maybe it will help me down the stretch. But it's frustrating because I had been feeling so good. But we have a lot to be positive about right now."
The team said no surgery will be necessary, and Pettitte appeared to be in relatively good spirits. Cashman looked a little wearier than the 40-year-old lefty after losing two-fifths of his rotation in bang-bang fashion.
"You just have to deal with it," Cashman said. "If you want to be the best, you have to deal with it. Hopefully, we'll be capable of dealing with it."
Before the game, in announcing Sabathia's DL stint, Joe Girardi said Freddy Garcia would take Sabathia's turn in the rotation tomorrow night against the White Sox. But with Garcia having been needed yesterday, he will be pushed back to Monday. Adam Warren, who pitched well during the spring but has had an uneven year in Triple-A, will start Friday.
With Pettitte, widely credited with stabilizing the rotation upon his return, out until at least mid-August, that will open up speculation that the Yankees will pursue a starter at the trade deadline. Cashman in recent years has preferred to look in-house for fixes -- and he repeated that refrain Wednesday -- but he didn't rule out a trade.
Among the starters who figure to be available at the deadline are three in whom the Yankees previously have shown varying degrees of interest -- Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros, Bruce Chen of the Royals and Matt Garza of the Cubs. A team source said they like Garza the best, though that's without factoring in cost.
"We'll just have to figure it out," Cashman said. "I'd prefer not to go outside but obviously we do go outside, we've done that before. This is part of the process. You have to have alternatives, and this gives opportunities for people to step up."
Two of the organization's top pitching prospects, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, have been slowed this season by injury and poor performance, respectively.
Rookie David Phelps, a starter who pitched primarily out of the bullpen earlier in the season, recently was sent down to get stretched out. He is likely to get some starts in the short term. Cashman said Phelps would have been the choice ahead of Warren if he were more prepared to pitch extended innings.
It is another obstacle to overcome for a team that has faced its share. Within a two-week stretch in early May, the Yankees (46-28) lost closer Mariano Rivera and setup man David Robertson. They've been without leftfielder Brett Gardner since April 18, and now they've lost their Nos. 1 and 2 pitchers. Despite those significant absences, the Yankees have won five straight games and 15 of their last 18.
"Andy's extremely important to us but, like Mo said, you can't think about me being here, you guys have to move on and do your jobs," Girardi said. "I'm not trying to be cold, but no one's going to feel sorry for us. Andy doesn't want us to feel sorry for him. He wants us to go out and continue to win."
Alex Rodriguez called the day's setbacks "a good test.
"We've been tested obviously a little more than we'd like to be tested," Rodriguez added. "But guys have stepped up. It's a long season. When you come out of spring training, when you break camp, you don't expect to have 25 guys healthy the whole year. So it's another challenge, and I think we're going to be fine."