The clock ticking down to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline crept under 24 hours as the Yankees warmed up for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Diamondbacks at the Stadium. Still there had been no move by general manager Brian Cashman to upgrade the pitching staff. And so there was talk about the current starting rotation and what might be done to get more out of it.
The Yankees still had the best winning percentage in the American League entering play and so it’s not like the rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Domingo German and CC Sabathia — haven’t been capable. But they have thrived more on a high-scoring lineup and a sterling group of relief pitchers.
The suspect performance of the starters never appeared as stark as it did last week, when they were battered by postseason contenders Minnesota and Boston in what manager Aaron Boone called “a rough week.”
But Boone said the efforts has long been underway to get an inconsistent rotation to pitch more consistently. The field staff has been working with all of them.
“Obviously we’re trying to attack everyone individually. Where can we make little improvements? Whether it’s mechanical things, whether it’s things we’re picking up that we’re seeing; is there things within the game plan that can be tweaked or adjusted to help them?
“But also at the same time not overreacting to ‘every guy’s had a rough go one time through’ and the fact it all happened in a week makes it difficult,” Boone added. “So we try to attack all those things and see if we can get to the bottom and see where we can help everybody, even if it’s on the margins. We know they’re all capable. I would expect them this time through to go out and pitch well for us.”
Domingo German may have started the rotation on its way back by allowing three runs in 5.1 innings on Sunday in Boston as the Yankees salvaged a win from the Red Sox. However they believed it to be especially important for Happ to build on that Tuesday night.
Happ put a little run together to start July. In three straight starts he went at least five innings and allowed one or two runs. In those games, he pitched 15 2/3 innings to a 2.93 ERA and brought a surprisingly high ERA down to 4.86 going into the matchup with the Diamondbacks.
“Really just driving pitches to his lanes,” is how Boone replied to a question about what he wanted to see in Happ’s pitching.
“Obviously the four-seam fastball is important for him. Being able to mix in the slider and the changeup even,” Boone continued. “As long as he’s commanding the ball, he’s got a chance to go out and be really successful for us. That’s the expectation and hopefully he gets it going tonight.”
Boone said that while he’s been aware of all the trade chatter leading up to the Wednesday deadline, he isn’t intimately involved. He said “if my opinion is asked, I give it” and that he chats with Cashman about once a day.
And he continues to show faith in the rotation even as it comes off its worst week.
Boone was asked about not having someone performing like a true ace — German is 13-2 but probably approaching an innings limit — for a postseason series.
“I would say there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. We have a lot of really good players and we have what we think is a very capable staff. We may be creative in the way we do it and maybe not in a traditional way,” he said. “Going into the playoffs, we’ll see where we are. We’re in late July.
“Who knows who is back in the fold and how guys are built up?,” he added. “The bottom line is we feel, at that point, we’ll hopefully have a team full of guys capable — whether it’s in a creative way or in a traditional of way — of getting 27 outs every day.”
Since Cashman went public with an interest in acquiring a pitcher before the All-Star break, Boone has steadfastly defended the performance of the members of the current rotation. That hasn’t changed.
“We’ll see where we are at this time tomorrow, if anything has changed at all,” Boone said. “But we know we’re capable of something really special with the guys we have in that room right now.”