Yankees' rotation is the speed bump in the road

CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees

CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees reacts in the third inning. (April 17, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since

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BOSTON

The Yankees have discovered a way around their worsening rotation issues. Make starting pitching obsolete.

It worked for one day, anyway. Freddy Garcia gives up five runs and needs to be pulled in the second inning? No problem. Tex, Swish, how about a 12-spot?

The Yankees made the virtually impossible look easy -- not to mention highly enjoyable -- in rallying from a 9-0 deficit to shock the Red Sox, 15-9, Saturday at Fenway Park.

But here's the not-so-funny thing about historic comebacks. There's a reason teams wind up in those seemingly bottomless mineshafts, and deep down, Joe Girardi was more than a bit unsettled by Garcia's clunker.

As Girardi fielded questions about seven-run innings and kicking extra points, he was fully aware of his team's most troubling issue. It's what managers do. And if the Yankees don't get better performances from their rotation, currently ranked 26th in the majors, double-digit scores won't continue to be a laughing matter. They don't play the Red Sox every night.

"We obviously need to get them on a roll," Girardi said of the rotation. "I think that's important. It's been a struggle. At times it's been good and at times it's been a struggle. I believe it will change. I really do."

Girardi's belief, however, won't make it so, just as the Yankees' optimistic prognosis for Michael Pineda didn't magically heal whatever problems are going on in his right shoulder. Before the game, Girardi announced that Pineda's rehab start in Bradenton, Fla., had to be cut short after 15 pitches. He will have his shoulder examined in New York Monday.

Brian Cashman, in an email to Newsday's Erik Boland, said he is "concerned" about Pineda. "It's a setback," the GM said.

Cashman insists that the trade for Pineda was more of a long-term investment, not specifically to patch holes for this season. But based on his recurring shoulder weakness and pending doctor's appointment, even the 2013 rotation could be wishful thinking. "I can't tell you when we'll get him back now," Girardi said.

Which brings us to Andy Pettitte, who at 39 should not be considered a lock by any stretch, regardless of his 240 wins and big-game reputation. Pettitte's next rehab start will be at Double-A Trenton on Wednesday, and the Yankees figure he'll need two more after that. Pettitte should be able to pitch again in the majors at some point. But staying in the rotation, starting every five days and maintaining the consistency we've seen from him in the past? That's a different story.

For now, the fading Garcia is the weakest link, with an ERA that climbed to 9.75 after Saturday's debacle, which tied the shortest start of his career. "No excuses," he said. "I just can't get anybody out. Everything I throw is hit. I need to step up and pitch the way I know I can pitch."

Garcia already could be maxed out, and Girardi, puzzled by his lack of velocity, even wondered if he is OK physically.

The Yankees could skip Garcia's next turn and insert David Phelps as a space-holder for Pettitte. Worrying about the back end of the rotation, however, is useless if the front end doesn't get straightened out. CC Sabathia can ease Girardi's mind by putting the Sox out of their misery in prime time Sunday night.

Of the five starters, Sabathia's 5.59 ERA is the only one the Yankees can be certain is a mirage. If not, their resilience will be severely tested this season.

"I always say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Mark Teixeira said.

Better still, don't get beat up in the first place.

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