Thursday, June 8, 2017


(Rich Schultz | Getty Images)
It was only a matter of time before rotation weakness posed a serious threat to derail this promising season. That the first man to crumble is Masahiro Tanaka is full of irony, but then what part of this team and season isn't?

At the beginning of this season I wrote the weakest spot on the lineup card may well be the guy signing it. When I wrote that, I explained I thought the success of this rebuilding year -- and never forget that's what it is, playoffs or no playoffs   --  would come down to whether Joe could conquer his predisposition for sticking with the bigger contract over the better arm in the rotation when things got sticky.

That moment is at hand.

For whatever reason -- undiagnosed or hidden injury, messed-up mechanics, psychological jonesing for a pet catcher or sub par "baseball vocabulary" (looking at you, Jerry Remy) -- the Yankees' ace has melted into a puddle of smouldering s'mores, bubbling and oozing over the smoky ashes of every scorecard Joe puts his name on now.

(Photo: NY Post / Paul Bereswill)
He's sporting the highest ERA in the league among qualified starters (6.55) and lost five straight starts; a streak during which he's thrown to a 10.72 ERA and served up a gopher ball roughly every other inning over a 22-inning stretch.

And it hasn't been for lack of trying by the Yankee bats, which have been backing him with the 11th best run support of all pitchers in the league at 5.42 per 9 innings he's out there on the rubber -- including at least 4 or more runs in all but one of the games during his recent smouldering s'mores streak.

For a little more perspective, two years ago, his worst since becoming a Yankee, he  gave up 25 homers in 24 starts. That tied him with three other guys for ninth place on that dubious list.

But this year, in 12 starts he's already air-mailed  17 souvenirs to the fans in the cheap seats-- only one behind the top spot.

In short, until he's fixed, he's become an automatic loss. If he was a prospect making the league minimum, he would've been sent back down weeks ago. If he'd been a spring training invite signed to a major league league contract on Opening Day, he'd be designated for assignment by now.

Unfortunately for both the team's playoff chances this year  and the future of some of its young pitchers of the future, though, the Steinbrenners are locked into him and his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament for the next three years to the tune of $67 million -- and the likelihood anyone will tempt him to exercise his opt-out this winter with a better offer is an impossible dream.

Photo: Getty Images
Joe made a lot of  noise throughout spring training that his pitching competition would be all about the best arms winning the spots.  Now it's put up or shut up time, and the stakes are high: The future of an expensive arm, a potential playoff spot this season and, perhaps most importantly, an instructive lesson for the new faces of the franchise on whether the manager they've been dealt is the kind willing to crash into walls going for it all like they are for the next five to six years-- or not.

After Tanaka's latest meltdown Tuesday,  Joe was busy  building stone walls, repeating his now familiar refrain Tanaka is fine ("He says he feels good." -- Joe, ) and just needs to pitch MORE if you can believe it.

"It’s just getting him to consistently repeat," said Joe, according to the NY Post. That’s the bottom line. Larry knows what’s going on, but it’s getting him to consistently repeat it.”

Larry, though, doesn't sound like he's too familiar with "what's going on" other than his part in Joe's script where he agrees there are no plans to shut down Tanaka or even skip his turn.

(June 5, 2017 - Source: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America)
Per "For now, Tanaka is staying in the Yankees' starting rotation and scheduled to make his next start on Sunday at Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles. When asked if skipping Tanaka a turn was an option, pitching coach Larry Rothschild answered, "No. Not right now."

"However, it appears as if the Yankees may be weighing the possibility of pushing back Tanaka until Monday when the Yankees open a West Coast trip in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels.

"Why do that? Tanaka was hit hard by the Orioles last week in Baltimore (5.2 IP, 7 runs), so he could miss facing them again to pitch against an Angels' club that is without injured superstar center fielder Mike Trout.

"There are different things that we talk about," manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm not ready to share anything with you yet. You know? So that's the bottom line. Let's just put it that way." If the Yankees push Tanaka back a day, long reliever Chad Green likely would make a spot start on Sunday against Baltimore. "We could possibly back (Tanaka) up until Monday, try to get everybody more rest," Rothschild said. "But we'll have to see where we go with that and discuss that."

You know what Joe and Larry? It's no secret your ace is broken and it's no sin to admit we're stuck with him.  But it's suicide in the standings and the bullpen to keep sending him out there in the hope he fixes himself so he can be shopped for the sake of Hal and his quest to get under the luxury tax threshold.

Better idea: He's still young, smart and gifted so treat him like the long-term, costly and potentially valuable asset he is. Stick him on the disabled list, send him to Tampa to do a full work-up on him (no matter how he says he feels),  identify whatever is and isn't  physically ailing him,  and then do whatever is required to repair and rehab what's broken.

Do it now and the absolute worst case scenario is we lose him for the rest of this and  next season,  and then get him back for two big beautiful final seasons after the team's rebuild is completed and already banging on all eight cylinders.  Or, if nothing is found to be truly wrong with him after the workup, have him stay and work out his problems down there until he's recognizable as a major league pitcher before bringing him back up again. He's worse than useless as he is right now.

Photo: Getty Images
Meanwhile, Chad Green is right on schedule rotation-wise to replace Tanaka in the rotation, can easily go  six innings or more -- and most assuredly deserves first crack at the spot.

Why? Because in case you didn't notice like I did back during Joe's  spring  dog and pony rotation competition, the winner WAS Chad Green. Although you may not recall because he was the first one in the contest sent packing after just two starts because Joe had already  pre-determined his fate would be relief fodder, he was the ONLY pitcher in the contest who didn't allow a single run to score in two starts.

And if he doesn't work out for some reason, he should be sent down to replace next-in-line Chance Adams and stay stretched and keep developing his game there.  Because bullpen arms are a dime a dozen and healthy, viable starters of any age are a precious commodity -- and between expected innings limits and unexpected injuries, we're going to be losing more pitchers in this rotation before this season's over,  you can bank on it.

We're already down one starter already.

Only the guy who signs the scorecard doesn't see it that way.

--Barry Millman
BYB Writer
Twitter: @nyyankeefanfore

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