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Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley provide lift for beleaguered rotation

Chase Whitley of the Yankees prepares for his

Chase Whitley of the Yankees prepares for his start against the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It is among the oldest sayings in team sports: Things are never as good as they seem when you're winning and never as bad as they seem when you're losing.

Finally, the last two games at Citi Field for what had been a beleaguered Yankees rotation showed maybe things aren't quite so bad.

Wednesday night, Masahiro Tanaka pitched a four-hit shutout, and rookie righthander Chase Whitley, on a pitch count, tired after 42/3 scoreless innings Thursday against the Mets.

But he still demonstrated more than enough for Joe Girardi to earn another start.

"He didn't do anything not to start," Girardi said. "His performance was spectacular."

Those kinds of performances from Yankees starters, outside of Tanaka, who has been excellent all season, have been in short supply in the past month.

"I take encouragement that we got wins," general manager Brian Cashman said Friday after the Yankees game against the Pirates was rained out and will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader Sunday. "That's all that matters."

Injuries have gutted the rotation the past month as Ivan Nova was lost for the season after Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have landed on the disabled list, their return dates unclear.

Sabathia, 33, placed on the DL on Sunday with inflammation in his right knee, was diagnosed with what Cashman on Wednesday called "degenerative changes" in the cartilage in the knee during a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Sabathia received an injection of cortisone and stem cells from Andrews on Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.

"Dr. Andrews said we have to give it time and see how it responds," Cashman said Friday. "I'm in the same place [as Wednesday], which is a gray area. He'll be on crutches for a few days after [the injection] and then we'll see how he is. I have no idea if it's going to be a benefit or not."

Pineda is headed to Tampa Sunday to continue rehabbing his strained teres major muscle -- which is located just below his recently repaired right shoulder -- and the injury's location will have the Yankees taking things extra slowly with the 25-year-old righthander. Though Pineda has been throwing at 60-90 feet without pain, club insiders think even a mid-June return might be optimistic.

Because of all of the uncertainty, the outings by Tanaka and Whitley took on extra importance.

It was the offensively challenged Mets, yes, but the same Mets who scored a combined 21 runs in a two-game sweep at the Stadium on Monday and Tuesday.

Whitley's outing was the more encouraging of the two, simply from the standpoint that the Yankees already believe they know what they're going to get start to start from Tanaka.

Whitley, 25, whose changeup has wowed opposing scouts in the minors, was terrific against the Mets, giving the Yankees hope that they just might be able to weather their rotation woes.

"He didn't show any nerves at all," Brian McCann said of Whitley, who admitted to being nervous. "From pitch one, he executed all of his pitches."

The catcher paused, then simply, but perfectly, captured the sentiment felt from top to bottom in the organization after the two games in Flushing: "It was a huge, huge lift for us."

New York Sports