David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees, like the Mets, are worried about innings limits, pitch counts and fragile elbows. Both teams have talked about employing a six-man rotation, a somewhat radical solution to the common problem of overuse.
The difference between the two? Only the Mets made the mistake of actually doing it.
The Yankees, as Joe Girardi explained Saturday, are reluctant to experiment with a six-man rotation because the complications extend beyond that day's starting pitcher. It can damage the bullpen, weaken the bench and, just as important, irritate the members of the suddenly crowded rotation.
To be fair, the Yankees haven't felt quite as pressured to go that route despite discussing the option during spring training. With Masahiro Tanaka on the shelf for six weeks, they didn't have a surplus of starters until he and Chris Capuano returned from the disabled list.
Even then, the Yankees didn't hesitate to bounce Capuano to the bullpen. They chose to work around the off days and postpone Michael Pineda's next turn until Friday, giving him an extra-long break to curtail his innings.
As the Yankees wait for Ivan Nova's return, perhaps this month, Brian Cashman again has raised the possibility of a six-man rotation to ease the crunch and preserve a vulnerable pitching staff. But when asked Saturday about such a strategy, Girardi didn't sound in favor of it.
"There's two ways I think a six-man rotation could work," he said. "You go to a 13-man pitching staff, so now you're at 12 position players, which makes it physically a real grind on your position players. And if you're a National League team, it makes it really difficult.
"Or all your guys in the bullpen are two- and three-inning guys, and when you make a change, you've got to live with it. Now if they add a [26th] person to the roster, I think it's more than feasible. But I think you'd have to do that."
Well, we know MLB isn't going to a 26-man roster next week, and this collective-bargaining agreement has another year left before any such changes could be implemented.
Using six men can make for a disgruntled rotation, too. You're taking a small but critical group of players who are used the least on the roster and further reducing their time on the field.
Also, pitchers are notorious creatures of habit, mapping out the four days between starts in a way that's meant to optimize their preparation. Occasionally, that schedule can be tweaked. But permanent alterations, for more than a week or so, are not something that any pitcher wants to do on the fly. "It's not part of your routine," CC Sabathia said. "You're just not used to it."
Sabathia said the Yankees' pitchers have not been approached about such a plan, and as a 15-year veteran, he didn't sound all that enthusiastic about it. Terry Collins diligently briefed his starters before the Mets shifted into six-man mode last week, but it seems as if their discontent gradually snowballed, as did Collins'. By Friday, he was fed up with questions about it and evidently was minutes away from flushing the plan.
Dillon Gee, who was allowed one start before getting pushed to the bullpen, unloaded Saturday on the Mets' half-baked plan. As Girardi emphasized, going to a six-man rotation is just not practical on short notice.
"Their bodies are on a certain time clock, and I think it's hard to make an adjustment," he said of his starters. "If you were to do it, I would suggest that you do it in the minor leagues. And if you do it for a couple months, guys would figure out how to adjust to it. But if you keep jumping around, it becomes difficult."
The Yankees intend to periodically insert an extra starter to give the rotation additional rest, and with off days, keep a leash on innings. Will it work? Tough to project in early June. But across town, we already know that the six-man rotation didn't.