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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees have quantity, not quality, when it comes to starting pitchers

New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda reacts after

New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda reacts after giving up a two-run single to the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a game, Monday, June 22, 2015 at Yankee Stadium. Photo Credit: AP / Julie Jacobson

Choosing to use six pitchers in a rotation, as the Yankees will do when Ivan Nova returns Wednesday against the Phillies, would seem to indicate a team has plenty of starters. Maybe even one too many.

That's not the same, however, as having enough pitching.

We're talking about quantity vs. quality here, and Monday night's stinker from Michael Pineda -- on the heels of Masahiro Tanaka's malfunction a day earlier -- plants a seed or two of doubt regarding the long-term viability of this rotation.

It's a small sample, obviously. Only two days. But these are the Yankees' two front-line starters, basically the No. 1 and 1A, so they'd like to have one balance out the other when these blips occur, not have both go belly-up.

The last time two Yankees allowed at least seven runs on back-to-back days was 2010, when CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte each teed up a seven-spot in late September. That's a while back. And the Yankees haven't made the playoffs the last two seasons.

We're assuming the Yankees have a decent shot to end that drought this year. But without more consistency from the rotation, that's going to be a struggle.

"You see some really good games," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "And then you have some games that are not only not good, they're bad."

Take Monday night, for example. Now factor in that it was the lowly Phillies who hammered Pineda for eight runs and 11 hits, and the night feels a bit more unsettling.

To put things in perspective, the Phillies had lost 12 straight on the road while averaging 1.83 runs. Overall, they had averaged 2.74 runs away from hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, the lowest road mark since the '81 Cubs finished with 2.73.

Yeah, the Phillies are a pitiful offensive team. The player they started Monday night at DH was hitting .182 with a .539 OPS. His name? Chase Utley.

But none of that mattered against Pineda, who didn't have an 11-day break as an excuse for melting down this time the way he did at Camden Yards on June 12.

That night, after the Yankees had skipped his turn for the sake of an innings limit, the Orioles raked Pineda for six runs in 41/3 innings, and we all just assumed he was rusty. Joe Girardi suggested the extended vacation might have flattened his slider, and now we're beginning to wonder if messing with his schedule could do more permanent damage.

"Obviously, hindsight is pretty good," Rothschild said. "But the first thing you have to ensure is his health, or nothing else matters."

Pineda rebounded last Wednesday against the Marlins, allowing one run and one hit and striking out nine in 62/3 innings. But Monday night, his slider disappeared and he was unable to finish off hitters.

It was only the second time in 55 career starts that he didn't record a strikeout (the other was April 23, 2014, at Fenway Park, where he was ejected in the second inning for being caught with pine tar on his neck).

We're not sure what to make of the rotation's back end. Sabathia has been serviceable, Adam Warren has excelled in his new role and Nathan Eovaldi (4.95 ERA) must be considered a disappointment at this point. Only Sabathia feels like a potential health risk, but you never know.

Now the Yankees will insert Nova into this mix, with Wednesday's game representing his first major-league start since Tommy John surgery in April 2014.

So the Yankees have numbers for the rotation, but what do they amount to? Their starters' ERA has slipped to 4.42, which is 11th in the American League; Pineda's outing dropped them below the Orioles (4.39). Fortunately, two of the four teams below them in that category also reside in the AL East. The other, the Rays, are second in the AL with a 3.18 ERA, which helps explain why the Yankees are chasing them.


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