A quick status check of the Yankees’ rotation Tuesday afternoon went something like this: The team says Luis Severino isn’t tired, CC Sabathia isn’t really that hurt and Sonny Gray isn’t getting out of the bullpen anytime soon, however long his unfortunate stay in the Bronx eventually lasts.
The Yankees tell us there’s no reason to be worried about their ragged group of starting pitchers at the moment. But that doesn’t change the fact that their two most reliable arms weren’t even on the roster 2 1/2 weeks ago, with J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn now shaping up to be ’95 David Cone and ’05 Shawn Chacon.
Good thing, too. Brian Cashman couldn’t get the ace he was looking for at the deadline, but at least he had the foresight to add middle of the rotation depth. Before the All-Star break, the Yankees used a total of eight starting pitchers in those 95 games. Since then, they’ve needed nine just to get through 24. As it turns out, that middle is pushing its way to the front, with the trades for Happ and Lynn looking better by the day.
The sturdy Happ did a solid impression of a No. 1 Tuesday night, pitching seven scoreless innings and allowing only one hit -- C.J. Cron’s broken-bat, bloop single in the fourth -- to lead the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Rays. That ran him to 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his first three starts since coming over from the Blue Jays on July 26, despite a debilitating bout of hand, foot and mouth disease mixed in. That’s certainly ace material, even if he’s feasted on a pair of bottom-feeders like the Royals and Rangers. Happ has expertly handled what’s been put in front of him so far, including that pesky coxsackievirus.
“I think it’s just part of the team aspect,” Happ said. “I came here to be a part of it and help any way I can.”
The prognosis for the rest of the rotation, however, feels murky. The Yankees can’t know for sure when Severino will pitch like a Cy Young contender again, or if Sabathia’s ailing right knee will be as stable as it needs to be for the next 2 1/2 months (we’re giving them the benefit of an extended playoff run). Neither is automatic. The only lock is that Gray is now a relief pitcher, a point further driven home by the Yankees calling up Luis Cessa to take CC’s spot in the rotation.
Amid all the questions involving Severino’s potential fatigue, Boone doubled down Tuesday in saying that his struggling No. 1 will indeed make his next start, Saturday against the Blue Jays. The manager seemed to think Severino could be fixed in short order, despite a sickly tailspin that has now stretched for seven starts.
Not only has Severino posted a 7.50 ERA during that dive, but opponents have whacked him for 11 homers over 36 innings, to the tune of a .346 batting average and 1.016 OPS. That’s disturbing, and hardly a blip.
“As of now, we’re staying on course with him,” Boone said. “We think he’s closer than the results have been.”
Maybe, but Boone also made sure to add that Severino could be pushed back for a breather or two when the Yankees get to a few of their off days later this month. So Severino isn’t tired, but still could benefit from a little rest. Got it?
As for Sabathia’s knee issues, those are nothing new. He’s been dealing with them for years, with varying degrees of success, and these occasional tune-ups are just part of his standard maintenance -- until they become something bigger. Sabathia got the deluxe package Monday, as the knee was drained to alleviate the swelling, then injected with a lubricant.
“I just wanted to be smart about it,” Sabathia said.
The one luxury the Yankees do have right now is time. There’s no sense in recklessly chasing the Red Sox. Plus, the Yankees’ next 18 games are against weak competition in the Rays, Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles, White Sox and Tigers. They don’t face a playoff contender until Sept. 3, when they open a three-game series in Oakland.
That’s shaping up to be a wild-card preview. And the Yankees would like to be more confident about their potential starting options for that game by then.