The New York Yankees have to stay healthy to have any chance at another playoff appearance. Less than two weeks into Spring Training, they have already been bitten by the injury bug. It’s odd to say, but these injuries could actually help the Yankees.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has many tough decisions to make before April 1. Injuries to starters Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes don’t make those decisions any easier. It does, however, give other players extended time to prove themselves.
If Girardi had a list of things he didn’t want to deal with this spring, injuries would have been at the top. The injury to Hughes is said to be worse than the team first thought, which gives pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Girardi more time to work with the two pitchers that are battling for a spot in the rotation.
With Hughes hurting his back and now apparently out for the start of the season, the Yankees have a gaping hole in the back of the rotation. The back-end was already a huge concern for the Yankees and with the righty not healing as fast as the team thought, it may be Hughes who ends up having to battle back to get into the starting rotation.
With Hughes not having time to work on all that failed him last season, and Girardi unable to see if Hughes even deserves a starting spot, the two pitchers who thought they were in a competition for the fifth-spot now have more time to showcase their stuff to the coaches.
This extra time could give both pitchers a chance neither had expected going into camp – both being in the starting rotation, even when Hughes comes back from his injury.
The young guns that have been given this chance of a lifetime have stepped up their game; Ivan Nova and David Phelps have looked strong in their starts in the Grapefruit League, and have impressed coaches with how far they have come since last season.
It may be early, but Phelps has looked good and Nova has looked even better, as each is not only trying to be named a starter, but also trying to make the pitching decision as tough on the organization as possible.
Nova pitched two near-flawless innings Saturday against the Detroit Tigers; he showcased a knee-bucking curve, a fastball reaching as high as 94, and hit the strike-zone with 22 of his 27 pitches. Nova put the Yankees on notice that he came to camp ready to fight for a spot. Instead of telling everyone what he was going to do, Nova let his pitching do the talking.
This is a very good sign for the Yankees, who will need more than five starters this season, especially with so much age in the pitching staff.
Nova pitched confident and controlled in his short outing. He showed the Yankees what they have always known – Ivan Nova can be a dominate starter in MLB. The ability to be a dominating starter isn’t Nova’s problem – his games come down to confidence.
Confidence has been Nova’s Achilles’ heel. “When he’s consistent, he’s dynamite,” Girardi said after Nova’s first start this spring. “He wins and pitches extremely well when he is confident. To me, he needs to be confident in his abilities to make it work.”
There are many decisions Girardi, and the Yankee coaches, have to make in the next few weeks, but none is bigger than who will be the pitcher to get the fifth spot in the rotation. Nova is the better pitcher and has more natural ability, but all he can control is going out and pitching like he did Saturday, making the decision for Girardi as hard as possible.
The outcome is very important to both pitchers, but the competition, and both pitchers looking so good, benefits the team as a whole.
The Yankees being able to not only go to either pitcher if needed, but being able to do it with confidence, is very good for a team that is already dealing with big injuries to their starters.
Nik Swartz is the Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @Sweetnesz13