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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees' $200 million team cannot continue on this course

Chase Whitley of the Yankees pitches in the

Chase Whitley of the Yankees pitches in the second inning against the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Chase Whitley, former college third baseman and a non-roster invitee to Yankees' spring training, would have questioned someone's sanity if that person suggested a week ago he'd be starting in the Subway Series.

"I'd tell them they were crazy," Whitley said.

Now imagine how Hal Steinbrenner felt when the Yankees' baseball ops crew informed him of CC Sabathia's replacement.

Troy University? Thirteen career Triple-A starts? Anyone seen my copy of Baseball America?

Let's face it. After spending -- no, investing -- nearly $500 million to prevent the Yankees from missing the playoffs for the next decade, Steinbrenner could never have predicted the May debut of Whitley.

Nor would he want to.

But there was Whitley, starting Thursday night against the Mets, doing what Steinbrenner's money was supposed to prevent. On this night, it worked out as Whitley pitched 42/3 scoreless innings. Dellin Betances whiffed six straight Mets. Adam Warren was the eighth-inning bridge to David Robertson, who finished the 1-0 victory.

It's not always going to go quite so smoothly. But that's the template Joe Girardi will need to follow in the weeks ahead, as Whitley is penciled in five days from now -- and he's still dealing with a rotation that also includes David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. Maybe that's why Girardi didn't get too giddy about Whitley's debut or turning Betances into the next Goose Gossage.

"It can fluctuate a lot," Girardi said. "We can't caught up in that. We went through some lumps where we had some tough starts, but these guys bounced back."

What choice do they have? Sabathia is recovering from a cortisone shot -- spiked with stem cells -- to his inflamed knee. And as bad as that sounds, he's at the top of the Yankees' DL class.

Forget Ivan Nova, out for the season to Tommy John surgery, and Michael Pineda's muscle issue in his upper back is a bit too close to his surgically-repaired shoulder. Other than Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda, the rotation is a dice-roll.

Hard to believe, and Steinbrenner realizes that his $200-million team can't continue on this course. Before long, the Yankees will need reinforcements, and there's no telling how much help Sabathia or Pineda might provide.

"We're struggling, clearly," Steinbrenner said Thursday morning after the MLB owners meetings. "We lost three of our five starters and that's been a big contributor to it. That's obviously a concern. We've got to get Pineda back. We've got to get CC back."

Steinbrenner can be patient for now. There's still a long way to go before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He mentioned Betances as one of the "bright spots" of his depleted Yankees, along with Warren and catcher John Ryan Murphy. A year ago, we were having a similar conversation with Steinbrenner, in the same Park Avenue hallway, as he praised the Yankees' youngsters for keeping the team afloat.

Can they do it again? Betances, for his part, delivered a resounding yes. During his six-K stretch, Betances threw 98 and buckled the knees of both David Wright and Curtis Granderson with curve balls for called third strikes.

"He's got a gift," Girardi said.

With Sabathia's murky future, the Yankees are going to need more of what went down Thursday night at Citi Field.

Maybe more than they're letting on as Sabathia has not been around the team since he wound up on the disabled list.

"There's always concern," Steinbrenner said. "We have to wait and see what happens. I'm holding my breath like all our fans are right now."

Splitting the Subway Series was a chance to exhale for the Yankees, especially after losing the first two in the Bronx, where they watched Kuroda and Nuno crumble.

Tanaka did what Tanaka does in shutting out the Mets. And Whitley? We'll call it one to build on. "A dream come true," Whitley said.

Whitley wasn't complaining. He left far too early for the win, but picked up his first hit with a third-inning single. A productive night all-around, even if Whitley is just a six-week space-holder for Cliff Lee or Jeff Samardzija down the road.

The Yankees needed someone now, and if Whitley can become a useful piece in the 2014 youth brigade, maybe Steinbrenner's investment will pay off.

Just not in the way we anticipated.

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