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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

With Domingo German likely not around, what will Yanks' playoff pitching approach be?

Yankees starter Domingo German delivers a pitch in

Yankees starter Domingo German delivers a pitch in the first inning of a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Friday in Boston. Credit: Getty Images/Adam Glanzman

The Yankees are preparing for a playoff run without Domingo German, and it’s a case of simple math.

German already is on “administrative leave”— MLB’s investigative period for domestic violence issues — until at least Thursday. Despite the absence of a police report, as no charges were filed, sources said Friday that the allegations against German are substantive, meaning a suspension is very likely to follow.

Taking that a step further, when the Commissioner’s Office does call for a domestic violence suspension, it’s never been fewer than 15 games. And in those two instances, involving the Mets’ Jeurys Familia (2016) and the Red Sox’s Steven Wright (2018), each player was cleared of doing any physical harm to his spouse. That didn’t prevent commissioner Rob Manfred from concluding that the domestic violence policy had been violated and that disciplinary action was warranted.

That’s an important distinction here. German reportedly has been accused of physical abuse, and if MLB has enough to corroborate those claims — the Commissioner’s Office plans to interview him soon — the suspension will rocket to a far more severe level. Two recent examples in this category involve Roberto Osuna’s 75-game ban in June 2018 and Addison Russell’s 40-game penalty last October.

You can see where this is going. ESPN reported Friday that German will not pitch in the playoffs, and while that is the expected outcome, nothing is official yet as MLB continues with its investigation.

The Yankees obviously aren’t holding their breath for his return despite German’s stature as the club’s most reliable starter for a large chunk of this season. Their champagne celebration after Thursday’s AL East clincher came only hours after German’s domestic violence episode was made public, a queasy juxtaposition of events for the franchise.

MLB’s open investigation provided the Yankees some cover as far as answering specific questions on German’s behavior, other than to deliver the standard condemnation. Boone did admit to hearing “whispers” of the alleged incident before Thursday’s announcement — it reportedly occurred after CC Sabathia’s fundraising gala at Hudson Yards — but that apparently didn’t impact his decision to have him pitch Wednesday in relief of Sabathia. Nor should it, really, as MLB’s policy, which kicked in the following afternoon, is designed to take such matters out of the team’s hands.

From a baseball perspective, however, German’s looming absence will force the Yankees to seriously rethink what was shaping up to be a potentially radical approach to their October pitching strategy. Boone already had been deploying German as a reliever who would piggyback that day’s starting pitcher, suggesting he would do the same in the playoffs.

German, 27, was the Yankees’ de facto ace for much of this season, going 18-4 with a 4.02 ERA as a replacement for the injured Luis Severino atop the rotation. While the Yankees had expressed a concern about his innings workload, Brian Cashman stressed that it wouldn’t be an issue come October, and his limited usage in that piggyback arrangement probably was the reason.

But now that German is likely to be removed from the Yankees’ playoff calculations, their pitching plans have become more of a scramble, leaving Boone to experiment more during the final week of the regular season. The fact that Severino made it back Tuesday for a successful 2019 debut certainly helps lessen the blow going forward, but there’s no ready substitute for German.

“It will be a little bit of everyone,” Boone said. “Obviously some more decisions to make as far as rounding out whether we go 11, 12, 13 pitchers, however we do it. There’s another guy or two probably in that conversation to fill it out, so depending on who we’re going to match up with in the first round, we’ll make those decisions accordingly and then try to piece it together as best we can.”

Boone refuses to show his hand this early, and the Yankees could go in any number of directions with their rotation. Unlike the Astros — who have a Big Three of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke — Boone & Co. aren’t committed to the whole set starter thing, other than maybe using James Paxton in a more traditional role of Game 1 ace.

Beyond that, the Yankees seem willing to experiment, turning this postseason into a series of glorified bullpen games meant to capitalize on their depth and versatility. German was supposed to be a key part of that playoff blueprint, but now he’s gone, and the Commissioner’s Office appears likely to make him a spectator for October.

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