The news that Nathan Eovaldi (14-3, 4.20 ERA) will be sidelined for at least two weeks with elbow inflammation is at least a little bit concerning for the New York Yankees, if not altogether troubling.
Eovaldi has largely been the rock in the rotation this season (5-1, 3.67 ERA in the second half), but has been a bit off his game his last two starts. He struggled to get through five innings against the Atlanta Braves, and then only lasted 5.1 innings on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, where he walked four — he hadn’t walked that many in a game since June 5 against the Los Angeles Angels.
CC Sabathia (4-9, 5.27 ERA) is expected to make the start Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles after missing time due to a right knee injury; however it’s hard to guess how effective CC can be, and it’s anyone’s guess if CC can manage to stay healthy through the critical stretch the Yankees face, including seven games with the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
Assuming the Yankees make the playoffs and Eovaldi is able to come back and be as effective as he’s been this season, that gives the Yankees a playoff rotation of Masahiro Tanaka (11-6, 3.64 ERA), Luis Severino (3-2, 2.04 ERA) and Eovaldi, perhaps not in that order. Michael Pineda (10-8, 4.15 ERA) and Iván Nova (6-7, 4.50 ERA) figure to be in the mix, however both have been inconsistent — Pineda has allowed at least four runs in four of his last five starts. Nova is still searching for his groove upon coming back from Tommy John surgery June 24.
Once feared lost for the season, these next few weeks — pending health — could give Sabathia the opportunity of forcing his way into playoff-rotation plans, if he can continue to pitch at least six innings while limiting the opposition. Prior to his injury-shortened game against the Cleveland Indians Aug. 23, he lasted at least six innings the three starts prior, only allowing more than four runs once.
It bodes well for the Yankees to win the division so they don’t have to decide who gets the ball in a one-game playoff. Whether Eovaldi would be that guy, or perhaps Tanaka or Severino, the Yankees’ depth in the rotation is best served spread out across a best-of-five series.
Though that depth has taken a blow at least temporarily, the Yankees can ill-afford to settle for a wild card game.