John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Late Wednesday afternoon I was talking to an executive from an American League team about the Yankees and their potential pitching plan for October, when he suggested I take a look at the box score of the Red Sox-Indians game that had been over for about an hour.
"Boston used seven pitchers and won the game 5-1," the exec said. "Seven pitchers, one run. That's taking the 'opener' strategy to an extreme, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Yankees try a formula like that in the postseason.
"If they're going to go deep into October, they'll probably have to win a couple of games that way, by leaning heavily on their depth. It could be really interesting to see what they do, but they've got a lot to sort out before then."
Yes, for a juggernaut cruising to an AL East title, the Yankees are surrounded by an unusual amount of uncertainty on the pitching side, from the question of whether they'll get Luis Severino and Dellin Betances back from injury, to which starters can be trusted in the post-season, to how cautiously they should proceed with Domingo German.
The German situation is most intriguing, as innings limits loom over the right-hander who has been their best starter, though to what extent the Yankees aren't saying.
In earning his league-leading 16th win Tuesday night, German pitched seven innings, bringing his season total to 120, close to his career-high of 124.1 innings, which he threw in the minors in 2014.
Since then German has dealt with various injuries, including a torn elbow ligament in 2015 that required Tommy John surgery, all of which have kept him from throwing a complete season. Last year, German threw only 90 innings between Triple-A and the Bronx.
Meanwhile, over the last several years it has become common practice around baseball to limit year-to-year jumps in innings for young pitchers to somewhere in the range of 40 innings.
At age 27, however, German is older than most pitchers in his innings-limit situation, which could give the Yankees more leeway than normal.
Still, when former Yankee manager Joe Girardi was asked on WFAN about German's limit during an interview in mid-July, he speculated the number could be 140 innings, presumably not including the postseason.
It seems clear now the number will be higher, or the Yankees would have begun getting German out of games earlier by now or giving him extra off-days.
As the AL exec said, "They're not going to stop him cold turkey for a month and then pick up from there. I'm sure they have a plan that will allow him to pitch at least somewhat regularly, so he can stay sharp as they get close to the end of the season.
"I'm sure he'll be a guy they're counting on in the postseason, but I doubt if they'll be as aggressive as they were with Severino (in 2017)."
Remember, as the Yankees made their surprise run deep into October of 2017, Severino wound up throwing 209 innings, including the postseason, well beyond his career high of 113.
Though he wasn't coming back from injury, the situation was at least somewhat like the Mets pushing Matt Harvey to a career-high of 216 innings in 2015, his first year back from Tommy John surgery, despite the highly-public protests from agent Scott Boras.
Nobody will ever know if that workload was a factor in Harvey's thoracic outlet syndrome injury the next season, an injury that required surgery and one from which the former All-Star has never completely recovered.
Severino, meanwhile, has been beset by ineffectiveness the second half of 2018 and injury this season, all of which may or may not be related to his 2017 workload.
Thus, it will be fascinating to see how the Yankees handle German. On Tuesday night, Aaron Boone indicated it wasn't a pressing issue yet, but you'd think the huge lead in the standings would allow them to be cautious the rest of the regular season.
As for the post-season, even if German has no limitations the Yankees are going to operate with a quick hook for their starters, especially after Boone was burned for twice waiting too long to go to the pen in the ALDS against the Red Sox.
They'll probably use Chad Green as an "opener," a strategy that has worked well for them this season, rather than giving starts to J.A. Happ or CC Sabathia, and by then they could have crazy-deep depth, if you will, in the bullpen.
That depends, of course, on the potential returns of Severino and Betances, both of whom are seemingly getting close after having been out all season.
In addition, the Yankees have just gotten Jonathan Loaisiga's high-ceiling arm back as a bullpen option, and they just might add minor-league sensation Deivi Garcia as well.
In that case, who knows, they could have a postseason box score that looks like the Red Sox from Wednesday, when six relievers that followed starter Brian Johnson combined for 6.1 innings, allowing two hits and no runs.
"I could see it," the AL exec said. "The Yankees won't be able to match up with Houston or LA as far as starters, but they might be able to throw enough high-quality arms at them that they can win it all anyway."