BOSTON - It's no secret that when the Yankees start the postseason next week against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, their biggest worry will be their rotation after CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman is the first to say as much. "Our rotation, which had been a strength the first half, right now it's healthy, but because of Pettitte's recovery and the poor performances of Burnett and Vazquez the second half, it's turned into an area of concern," he said Thursday from his Yankee Stadium office. "That can come and go. The ability is there."
But only Sabathia has shown any degree of consistency in the second half. Phil Hughes, who will pitch some innings this weekend in Boston, has been more effective of late.
"Thankfully, Hughes has been fantastic [lately] and Sabathia has been fantastic," Cashman said. "If Andy is healthy and can knock the rust out, hopefully he can be what he's normally been for us, but it's [the rotation] an area to keep an eye on. But these are the guys we're going with. They're more than capable, but at the same time, you acknowledge they haven't pitched as well as they can."
Cashman said the back stiffness Andy Pettitte experienced in his last start isn't a cause for concern. "He just felt a little tightness in that game," he said. "It's only a concern if it happens again."
The Yankees (8-15 in their last 23) moved into a tie for first place with the Rays at 94-65 last night when visiting Tampa Bay lost to Kansas City, 3-2. Because the Rays beat the Yankees 10-8 in the season series, if the teams finish tied, Tampa Bay will win the AL East title and face the Rangers in the ALDS, with the Yankees getting the wild card and playing the Twins.
With the Yankees having clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night, the conversations about the composition of the 25-man roster have begun, though still not yet in earnest.
As far as whether the opponent is the Twins or the Rangers, Cashman said, "It's not going to matter who we play."
The most discussed question for next week is the order of the Yankees' rotation and how many pitchers they will go with in the first round. It's a given that Sabathia will start Game 1, but beyond that, the Yankees have a couple of different ways to go.
With A.J. Burnett's struggles, they could go with a three-man rotation and use Pettitte in Game 2 so he would be ready to go on regular rest in a potential Game 5. Hughes would start Game 3 and Sabathia would pitch Game 4 on three days' rest.
Cashman did not tip his hand, saying only that Burnett's start Saturday is an important one. "We need to get him going,'' he said, "and that starts with positive performance."
As for Joe Girardi seeming to reverse course Wednesday - starting Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira after hinting one or all might get the day off - Cashman said it wasn't a sudden shift of organizational winds. Girardi talked to the players involved; each said he wanted to play.
"We never said we weren't going for the division," Cashman said. "We said we're not going to win at all costs at the expense of our health. That's what we've always said. So I don't know how you can misinterpret that. Unless you're stupid."
Teixeira said Girardi sought him out after Tuesday's game.
"This is not the time to take days off," Teixeira said. "As long as we have a chance to win the division, we're going to go for it."